San Diego Passes Ban on Source of Income Discrimination

Low income renters in San Diego will have more housing options available to them in the near future after the City Council passed a ban on source of income discrimination at their meeting on July 31. The new protection applies to renters who use subsidies to pay a portion of their rent, such as federal or local government vouchers as well as assistance from local nonprofit organizations. The city’s fair housing ordinance was amended to include legal source of income along with race, gender, religion, and other protected classes. The largest group to potentially benefit is Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) recipients, who are often blocked from housing options before they even have a chance to apply. The inclusion of subsidies from nonprofit organizations will be particularly helpful for households assisted by homeless services agencies operating rapid rehousing programs.  

Proponents told stories of being funneled to neighborhoods with high-density poverty because landlords regularly told them not to bother applying if they intend to use a rental subsidy. Representative Scott Peters (D-CA) sent a letter supporting the measure, explaining the extreme need amidst declining federal resources. The scarcity of landlords accepting vouchers is compounded by the loss of affordable homes with expiring subsidies, his letter explains.

Councilmember Georgette Gomez led the legislative effort, ultimately winning on a vote of 6 to 1. During floor discussion, councilmembers spoke of source of income discrimination as a form of de-facto racial segregation because the practice disproportionately impacts people of color. In San Diego, 86% of the 36,000 voucher recipients are non-white. San Diego becomes the tenth city in California to ban this form of discrimination.

The San Diego County Apartment Association led the campaign against the discrimination ban, claiming that it placed undue regulatory burden on landlords. Landlords specifically expressed concern about lost revenue during the time an apartment sits empty while waiting to be approved through federally-required inspections. The San Diego Housing Commission, which administers the Housing Choice Voucher program, refuted this concern by asserting that the average amount of time it takes for an apartment to be approved is 18 days. The new law creates a $1 million fund to offset costs to landlords who rent to voucher holders and incur property damage beyond the amount of a security deposit.

“Passage of the Source of Income ordinance in San Diego is a triumph for all San Diegans,” said Branden Butler, senior attorney at the Fair Housing Center of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. “Now, the days of lawful and legal discrimination against section 8 voucher holders will cease. In addition, subsidies paid directly by nonprofit organizations or rapid rehousing funds to housing providers are included in the new ordinance, which will provide greater assistance in housing homeless San Diegans.”

For more information about the successful campaign to ban source of income discrimination in San Diego, contact Branden Butler, senior attorney at the Fair Housing Center of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego at brandenb@lassd.org.