Source-of-Income Discrimination Is Most Common Form of Housing Discrimination Reported by Housing Choice Voucher Holders in Iowa City

An article published in the Journal of Urban Affairs finds that Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) recipients in Iowa City, Iowa, perceive source-of-income discrimination as the most common form of discrimination by landlords. This finding aligns with those of previous studies conducted in larger, more diverse cities. Source-of-income discrimination can make it difficult for voucher holders to secure rental housing within the time allotted for them to do so, which can result in the loss of their voucher.

The authors of the article, “How pervasive is source of income discrimination faced by housing choice voucher households: Lessons from a progressive Midwestern city,” focused on Iowa City, a mid-sized city, because its surrounding county (Johnson) has the highest proportion of cost-burdened renters of all Iowa counties, as well as the highest housing wage ($19.92 per hour). (“Housing wage” refers to the minimum hourly wage required to rent a studio or one-bedroom apartment while working 40 hours a week.) The authors analyzed the results of a 2013 mail-based survey conducted by the Iowa City Housing Authority (ICHA) among its 1,215 voucher-holding households. The survey collected information on households’ demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, perceptions of and personal experience with different forms of discrimination, and their reactions to these different forms of discrimination.

In total, 210 responses were received, for a response rate of 17%. Relative to all ICHA HCV households and the overall HCV population in the U.S., respondent households were more likely to have children (94% versus 43% and 5%, respectively) and to be single-parent households (73% versus 30% and 40%, respectively). The percentage of respondents with a non-white head of household (35%) was also lower than both the ICHA HCV population (55%) and the overall U.S. HCV population (69%).

A third of respondents reported that housing discrimination in general was prevalent in Iowa City, while 21% reported personally experiencing at least one instance of housing discrimination. A regression model constructed by the authors found that non-white respondents were significantly more likely to have reported experiencing housing discrimination. Among the respondents who had experienced housing discrimination, source-of-income discrimination was the most common type of discrimination experienced (24%). The authors suggest that source-of-income discrimination may be a “legal” proxy for race/ethnicity-based discrimination, which is prohibited under the “Fair Housing Act.”

In general, only 27.5% of respondents who had experienced some form of housing discrimination reported their experience(s) to an entity, such as the ICHA or Iowa City Human Rights Commission. However, three-quarters of these respondents were not pleased with how their situation was handled by the receiving entity. Many of the respondents who experienced discrimination and did not report it did not feel optimistic that doing so would benefit them.

The authors note that these findings likely underestimate the proportion of HCV-eligible households that experience housing discrimination, as the survey only evaluated households that successfully secured a rental home with their voucher. The authors emphasize the need for greater legal protections – and enforcement of those protections – against source-of-income discrimination. Prior research has found that in states and localities where source-of-income discrimination is prohibited by law, voucher holders are more likely to lease up and to live in better-resourced neighborhoods. For this reason, NLIHC has urged Congress to enact the “Fair Housing Improvement Act,” which would add source of income and military/veteran status as protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

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