Heeding the pleas of low-income residents and overriding the objections of worried landlords, the Kirkland City Council has made it illegal to turn away a prospective tenant only because he or she would use government rent vouchers.
The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to prohibit discrimination against prospective apartment or home renters receiving subsidies under the federal government’s Section 8 housing program.
“It seems to me that Kirkland has a compelling public interest in ensuring that people of all income levels can live here,” Councilmember Amy Walen said. “My grocery checker, my single-mom barista should be able to live here.”
The vote came after several Section 8 voucher holders said they had been turned away by landlords or forced out when a new owner adopted a no-voucher policy.
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“I have had doors slammed in my face because they refused to even consider taking someone of a limited income,” said Suzanne Grogan, who said she holds two master’s degrees and co-directed a United Way agency before medical problems forced her to accept government help.
The ordinance was drafted at the suggestion of A Regional Coalition for Housing, an affordable-housing partnership of 15 Eastside cities and King County.
Redmond passed a similar ordinance last year after an apartment complex notified its Section 8 renters their leases wouldn’t be renewed.
The Rental Housing Association and several landlords said plenty of property owners are willing to rent to Section 8 tenants, and they objected to creation of what they called a new protected class.
Some landlords said they were reluctant to accept housing vouchers because government inspections are required and because it would be difficult to collect compensation for damage caused by low-income tenants.
The Houghton Community Council opposed the ordinance but suggested if it were adopted that landlords with few units be exempted. “It sounds good, it makes everybody feel good, but it doesn’t increase the affordable housing in our city,” the council’s chairman, Rick Whitney, told the City Council.
Councilmembers Toby Nixon and Bob Sternoff voted against the ordinance, saying it could reduce the supply of rental housing by leading some landlords to sell rather than rent their units.
“Every time we impose another law like this one, we further reduce people’s choices,” Nixon said. “I for one do not want to live in a society where we have no choices, where everything is either mandatory or prohibited.”
Councilmember Dave Asher said the ordinance doesn’t require landlords to rent to a person with a Section 8 voucher over a more affluent person, but forbids landlords from refusing to rent to anyone with a voucher.
It’s wrong to discriminate against subsidized renters, Asher said, “and I think it is our duty to say that that’s wrong, just like King County has said that that’s wrong and Redmond has said that that’s wrong and Bellevue has said that that’s wrong and Seattle has said that that’s wrong.”
The Tenants Union of Washington State said 13 states and 39 cities and counties now prohibit landlords from refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers, which allow low-income families to live in economically diverse neighborhoods instead of traditional public housing.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org