Housing for All legislation aims to stop tenant discrimination

City Council criminalized discriminating against tenants through legislation. An educational campaign – Housing Education for All – was founded to spread awareness about how the policies work.
Housing for All legislation aims to stop tenant discrimination

Columbus city Councilmember Shayla Favor led a town hall on June 29 to educate Columbus on the Housing for All legislative package – ordinance 0494-2021, ordinance 0495-2021 and ordinance 0496-2021, which were passed on March 8 of last year.

“We know that the topic of housing isn’t always an easy discussion and can bring out polarizing opinions,” Favor said. “However, simply put, housing is a human right and it needs to be treated as such. Safe, stable and quality housing is critical to the stabilization of families, to physical and mental health, quality of life, education and economic outcomes among many others.”

People gathered at Mitchell Hall’s Crane Room at Columbus State Community College where they were met with a resource fair, buffet and DJ. As “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and other dance music was halted for the town hall to begin, Favor took the stage to address the housing crisis in the city.

“Approximately 54,000 low and moderate households in Franklin County paid more than half of their income to housing costs,” Favor said. “And among these households, 55% of them were Black households – a major racial disparity since Black households only account for 24% of the overall population in Franklin County. That’s a problem.”

The three ordinances came together to ban landlords from committing housing discrimination.

Ordinance 0494-2021 is a measure that states a resident cannot be denied from housing based on how they earn their income. The measure became effective on July 1, 2021.

Another measure, referred to as “renter’s choice,” allows tenants to choose how they pay their security deposit. The measure, Ordinance 0495-2021, allows tenants to pay the security deposit over three or six months. The acceptable forms of payment include wages, social security, supplemental security income, public or private sources, assistance payments or subsidies, child and spousal support, and housing vouchers. If a landlord or property owner requires a security deposit, they must provide written notice of the payment choices allowed under this law. The law doesn’t apply to leases that were carried out or renewed before July 1, 2021.

The last piece of the legislative package, Ordinance 0496-2021, is referred to as “rental receipt,” meaning property owners are required to give tenants written receipts for any security deposit and all rental payments if they are paid with cash or money order. The measure also became effective on July 1, 2021.

If landlords and property owners violate the laws, it is a criminal offense and they will be found guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. City Assistant Attorney Tiara Ross said landlords and property owners could face jail and fines.

“We have to be honest that most of the tenants and the renters that are burdened by this particular behavior don’t have the resources or the knowledge or the education to file a lawsuit on their own behalf or to seek that out,” Ross said. “So having these laws makes it a criminal offense and allows for tenants and for renters to have the city of Columbus to advocate on their behalf.”

Jeaneen Hooks is the Associate Vice President of Columbus Urban League, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for equitable access to resources, and said that there is historical significance to the city’s housing crisis and how discriminatory practices heighten the issue.

“Reflect for a moment that the federal fair housing laws that were codified in the 1968 Civil Rights Act, even as Black and brown men were dying in the Vietnam fields, many of their stateside families were being denied housing because of their race,” Hooks said. “Think about the redlining. The artificial boundaries created a century ago to keep people of color out of certain neighborhoods right here in Columbus.”

Redlining, Hooks also said, “still defines poverty lines today.” Hooks lastly asked residents to consider “the disproportionate number of Black single moms today who are likely to earn the least per hour compared to men and Caucasians” and how Black women “are five times more likely to face eviction.”

The Fair Housing Team at the Columbus Urban League helps educate, negotiate and resolve misunderstandings between tenants and landlords. Hooks said that many conflicts can be fixed through conversations and educational experiences about the rights tenants and landlords have under the law.

“Between January of this year and Monday, we at the Columbus Urban League were asked to investigate and intervene in over 600 cases,” Hooks said. “But we’re not satisfied with a short term fix.”

Residents can file complaints of violations with the Columbus Urban League at 740-580-3247 or fairhousing@cul.org to be investigated.

A panel of five officials mediated by Michael Wilkos, Senior Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Central Ohio, an organization representing nonprofits in the area to ensure people can be provided with basic needs, discussed the efficiency of the Housing for All legislative package and the education campaign.

Carly Boos is the executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance with Central Ohio and acknowledged the same statistic Favor did at the beginning of the town hall, which is that 54,000 households in Columbus were paying more than half of their income on housing.

“To get ourselves out of that, we should be building more than 15,000 units of housing per year (and) every year,” Boos said. “And even in our best years we are falling well short of that.”

According to the 2018 Housing Need Assessment report from the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, or BIA, Columbus is building about 8,000 housing units each year. This means the city is falling 43% behind what it needs to be accomplishing to accommodate population growth.

Wilkos asked the panelists about the housing legislation and how they believe the measures and changes will “improve our community based on the experiences and the work that (the panelists) do every day.”

Erin Prosser, the Assistant Director of Housing Strategies in the city’s Department of Development, said the most important task they can do for families and people who lose housing is get them new and permanent housing.

“That opportunity to stabilize those families through protections that the city council has championed is a game changer for some of those families,” Prosser said. “And these legislative protections are part of how we preserve some of that affordability and make sure that we are right-sizing the way that our city protects and works with citizens to make sure that there’s that stabling house component.”

“The solution is source of income,” Boos said. “And the data is abundantly clear that it works… It helps those families access housing, which they absolutely need to survive. Housing is not a luxury. You need it."
Carlie Boos, Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio

These protections will combat when property owners attempt to refuse housing to people with varying sources of income. Boos said that half of landlords in Franklin County self-disclose and admit they will not take tenants who receive income from child support.

“We know that 40% out of the gate will not take somebody who receives a housing choice voucher and other housing support,” Boos said. “And we know that 35% will never take somebody who receives (supplemental security income).”

Furthermore, over half of participants in the Housing Choice Voucher program are Black households, according to promotional materials with information about the legislation.

Those discriminations affect marginalized groups of people targeted by “systemic income disparities,” Boos said. Income segregation also ensures people will rely on sources of payments discriminated against by property owners.

“The solution is source of income,” Boos said. “And the data is abundantly clear that it works… It helps those families access housing, which they absolutely need to survive. Housing is not a luxury. You need it."

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