Another Tool in the Search for Affordable Housing

Jeff Bourne

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This is going to be an interesting session; probably a nightmare for Republicans. Much of the public attention has been on gun legislation, but there are other areas in which Democratic initiatives have been bottled up in the past and now will have a much better chance of being enacted.

One of these areas is housing. In an earlier blog today, Jim has highlighted one proposed piece of legislation dealing with “middle” housing. There is another bill that I had heard about earlier, which I think also addresses a housing issue that we have discussed on this blog. That is HB 6, introduced by Del. Jeff Bourne. D-Richmond. The bill would forbid someone from refusing to rent or sell a dwelling on the basis of the source of income or payment by the person seeking to rent or buy. In effect, it would prohibit landlords or property sellers from refusing to accept housing vouchers.

Bourne introduced this legislation in the 2019 session. It died in a House committee, without even being given the consideration of being referred to a subcommittee to be heard.

On this blog, we have discussed at least two problems associated with public or subsidized housing. First, such housing tends to concentrate poor folks in one place, leading to all sorts of social problems. Second, public housing is outrageously expensive to build and to administer.

More extensive use of housing vouchers for the provision of public housing would enable low-income families to seek housing in more middle income neighborhoods, which may be safer and be in better school zones. Vouchers would have the effect of diffusing poverty through the community, rather than concentrating it. Of course, there is always the transportation issue. Many poorer families need access to public transit and that would limit their choices of housing.

Instead of building and maintaining public or subsidized housing complexes, governments could provide vouchers based on the market value of housing in that area. Recipients could use those vouchers either for rent or mortgage payments. As often happens, the “market” may not be independent. Landlords could base their rents based on the value of vouchers. There will need to be some careful, independent analysis of what constitutes the “market value.”

As with most social issues, there is no magic solution for housing. But vouchers seem to be a viable approach. From the commentary I have read regarding this issue, there seems to be considerable resistance by landlords and financial institutions to accepting vouchers as payment for housing. (See here, here, here, and here.) HB 6 would broaden the choices available to lower income folks in their search for decent housing.

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14 responses to “Another Tool in the Search for Affordable Housing

  1. If the bill would prohibit discrimination based on the source of income, could a person earning his living from selling drugs have a right to rent housing? Would a drug kingpin have the right to finance (i.e., give) money to his dealers to rent housing (say for a crack house)? Would registered sex offenders who received money from another person have the right to rent a house? Somehow I doubt that Delegate Bourne has thought this out.

    • Obviously, I don’t have much insight into how it is done, but I suspect that drug dealers and drug kingpins have no problem renting or buying housing. If one has cash, there is always a means. The purpose is to prohibit landlords from turning someone down because part of the rent would come from a voucher. Probably the bill could be amended to limit its impact to the HUD Section 8 vouchers. However, whenever a bill’s scope is limited, inevitably, something pops up, which no one considered and which could also be legitimately included.

      • That’s my point. Legislative bills from any perspective need to be vetted carefully to make the best effort to fit their remedy as closely possible to the perceived problem. Conceptually, it doesn’t seem problematic to prohibit a landlord from rejecting a Section 8 voucher as a source of rent so long as the amount tendered covers the market value of the unit being rented and the proposed tenant is otherwise qualified. I would hope that a landlord could reject a proposed tenant who has been convicted of arson for burning down a prior residence.

        And if something else pops up, like it often does, the GA could look at amending the statute to cover the problem. With legislation, it’s easier to add than to subtract.

        • It is the function of committees to do the vetting and ask the type of questions that you pose. You are quite right; for an enacted statute, it is much easier to add something later than subtract. Also, it is sometimes easier to pass legislation if the sponsor is agreeable to some paring down.

  2. As a general rule, I favor housing vouchers — for the very reasons Dick enumerated. But TMT expressed reasonable concerns about drug dealers, prostitutes and other high-risk elements. Why can’t Bourne narrow the language to prohibit landlords from turning away prospective tenants for their use of housing vouchers?

    And I do have questions. All other things being equal, landlords should favor tenants with housing vouchers. Vouchers are backed by the government, hence, there is zero risk of non-payment. Rent collection is not an issue. If landlords turn such people away, they must have reasons. Perhaps those reasons are legitimate, perhaps not. But I would like to know what they are.

    • Typically landlords look for tenants who are personally and financially responsible. Tenants without personal and financial responsibility put the landlord’s private property, the rights of other tenants and neighbors at risk in an array of damaging ways. These concerns are not “code words.” They are profoundly legitimate concerns of a civilized society, inalienable rights, personal, social, and property rights as deep as the taproots Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Arguable these rights are under assault on many fronts in this nation.

    • Good question. I’d like to know, if Mr. Hall-Sizemore knows, if housing vouchers also cover the price of a security deposit. If not, does the landlord still have to accept the voucher even if no security deposit is provided?

      • A landlord may require a security deposit. The housing voucher program does not cover the security deposit.

        In researching this answer, it became readily apparent to me that the federal housing voucher program is very bureaucratic. This administrative stuff may be what is putting some landlords off. It would be helpful to streamline the process and model it after the food stamp program.

  3. The problem is that money-alone for the rent may not be enough for some landlords. I know a guy who will only rent to teachers…he’s rented to others – even police officers…but in his experience, teachers are the most quiet and trustworthy – not only for the monthly rent but for taking care of the unit – and not tearing it up or having junk cars or sketchy friends or acquaintances hanging around.

    The house next door to their rental has college students who are NOT “good neighbors”.. they raise hell at all hours of the night , take parking spaces that are not theirs..wander around drunk at night, and in general don’t have much regard for their neighbors.

    Had another friend who ended up having prostitutes in front of their house as the neighborhood gradually shifted to lower income folks whose friends and acquaintances were not the best.

    No one should underestimate the way many folks feel about where they want to live or not and the govt getting involved in it – in clueless ways.

    Many folks have invested their life savings in their homes and if their neighborhood changes in character – they lose their investments.

    • I think you are correct. I would never say ALL renters are bad. That’s the type of generalization that isn’t healthy. But, in the end, when you own an asset, you have more of an incentive to maintain and enhance it than someone who simply uses an asset.

      The Democrats better understand that they’re playing with absolute fire right now. There’s no easier way to let the GOP back onto the playing field than enacting a law like this. The Democratic gains since 2009 have all been in the suburbs. I suspect this bill would have a very low approval rating in suburbs in Virginia.

  4. What this amounts to is a stripping of personal property rights and granting someone else power over a property owner. In a free society, we should have the right of free association. I should be able to turn away potential tenants for any reason. With government money always comes government strings, which is why I do not rent to any Section 8 recipients now. I also assure you that even with assistance, the types of people who are on assistance will often still struggle to pay the difference between their rent and the voucher. This just begs for more discrimination lawsuits against landlords.

  5. I was under the impression that Section 8 vouchers covered the entire cost of the rent. Getting paid only part of the rent does not satisfy lease conditions.

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