Welcome to CASA’s new Advocacy Blog!  We’ll use this space to talk about housing issues in the news that matter to the people we serve. Our first topic?  Housing vouchers.

What is a housing voucher? Nearly 60,000 low-income households in North Carolina use housing vouchers to secure affordable housing. With a voucher, the tenant pays the landlord 30% of their income for rent, and the housing authority pays the landlord the balance.  Housing vouchers were created to provide low-income households more residential opportunities. In theory, a voucher allows families to select a neighborhood based on the quality of the school districts, proximity to public transportation and jobs, or any other factor they consider important. However, housing vouchers do not always provide the freedom and choice originally intended.

The Problem: Many landlords do not accept housing vouchers Tenants face many barriers when attempting to place their vouchers in the housing market. Once a qualified low-income family is selected from the voucher wait list (which can sometimes take years) they only have a few short months to find a landlord who is willing to accept their voucher and rent to them. If a tenant can’t find a landlord to accept his or her voucher, the voucher will be returned to the housing authority.  In most states, landlords may reject an applicant simply because they would pay their rent with a voucher, regardless of whether they would otherwise be a good tenant.  Landlords may reject voucher holders for a variety of reasons including: negative conceptions about working with the government, the administrative and inspection requirements of the program, or other preconceived notions about low-income tenants. They may legally turn away an applicant simply because they need to use a rental subsidy, regardless of their other qualifications.

The Solution: Add Source of Income (Housing Vouchers) as a protected class under Fair Housing Laws To decrease barriers to affordable housing for low-income households, multiple states and municipalities have designated source of income, specifically housing vouchers, as a protected class under their fair housing laws. Currently the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on seven protected classes: Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Sex, Familial Status, and Disability.  Applicants wishing to pay rents with other legal income sources may legally be rejected. A bill released in November 2018 intends to expand the federal Fair Housing act to include source of income and veteran status. This bill was released after HUD began an effort to get more landlords to accept housing vouchers.

Including source of income as a protected class does not mean landlords must accept housing vouchers. Instead, they must treat voucher holders like any other applicant. For example, if passing a criminal background check is required of market rate tenants, landlords may also require the voucher holder to pass a criminal background check. The landlord may not immediately reject someone based on their source of income or voucher status.  Source of Income protections have expanded choice, desegregation and access to opportunity for low-income households.

Impact on CASA: 68% of CASA’s tenants utilize a housing voucher. These vouchers are vital to the tenants and to CASA, providing us with much needed rental income while still ensuring we meet our mission to provide affordable housing.  If more landlords were to accept housing vouchers, additional low-income households would find affordable housing, landlords would receive consistent rental payments, and valuable funds would stay in the community through the voucher program. Adding source of income as a protected class can increase much needed housing opportunities for low-income households in North Carolina.