Source-of-Income Discrimination in Rhode Island Severely Limits Housing Choice Voucher Holders’ Options

A report by South Coast Fair Housing (SCFH), It’s About the Voucher: Source of Income Discrimination in Rhode Island, found the vast majority of recent online rental listings in Rhode Island are unavailable to House Choice Voucher (HCV) holders due to source-of-income discrimination.

Federal and Rhode Island state law permits landlords to reject prospective tenants based on their source of income. As a result, HCV holders face discrimination in the private rental market. Renters who receive federal benefits are most likely low-income elderly or disabled individuals, families with children, or people of color, and source-of-income discrimination exacerbates their existing vulnerabilities.

Over a two-week period in November 2018, SCFH monitored online rental listings in Rhode Island and audited a portion of the listings’ landlords by phone. Of the 3,070 listings identified on Zillow, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Showmojo and, 34% cost less than 120% of HUD’s Fair Market Rent and are therefore affordable to Rhode Island’s 9,300 housing voucher holders. Of these affordable online listings, 6.4% specifically discouraged voucher holders from applying and 15% required tenants to earn 2.5 to 3 times the rent in monthly income. Such minimum-income requirements indirectly discourage applications from tenants with rental assistance.

Researchers called a sample of landlords of rental homes listed for rent that were affordable to voucher holders, did not explicitly discourage voucher holders, and had no minimum-income requirements. They asked if the landlords accepted HCVs. Sixty-three percent of the landlords they called refused outright to rent to an HCV holder, 11% gave unclear answers, and 26% agreed to consider HCV holders. While 27% of the housing stock was theoretically available to tenants with HCVs, the percentage shrunk to 7% because of source-of-income discrimination.

Landlords managing properties in urban neighborhoods accepted HCV tenants 36% of the time compared to 22% of urban-ring landlords and 12% of suburban landlords. No rural landlords agreed to accept HCV tenants, but two-thirds of rural landlords gave unclear answers. Rural landlords may be less familiar with the program.

Families with HCVs use their vouchers disproportionately in high-poverty, low-opportunity neighborhoods. Research demonstrates source-of-income discrimination is a factor limiting their housing choices. To foster new housing opportunities for tenants with HCVs, SCFH recommends Rhode Island enact legislation prohibiting source-of-income discrimination and mandating the inclusion of lawful non-traditional income in meeting minimum income requirements.

It’s About the Voucher: Source of Income Discrimination in Rhode Island is available at: