Minneapolis apartment listings with the words "No Section 8" will soon be a thing of the past.
The City Council passed an ordinance unanimously Friday that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to Section 8 voucher holders. Landlords will still be able to screen applicants but will have to give voucher holders the same consideration as other prospective tenants. If renters feel a landlord has refused them because of their voucher, the ordinance allows them to seek damages through the city's Department of Civil Rights.
"We are continuing what is a long tradition in the state of Minnesota and in the city of Minneapolis of protecting public assistance recipients from discrimination," said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who co-authored the ordinance with Council Members Abdi Warsame and Lisa Goodman.
The ordinance will go into effect May 1, 2018, bringing Minneapolis in line with dozens of cities — including Chicago, Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia — that have similar regulations in place.
Eric Hauge, director of organizing and public policy at tenant advocacy nonprofit Homeline, said his organization has been working on the issue of discrimination against voucher holders for decades.
"It doesn't seem like that big of a step, but just the fact that you won't be able to just put 'No Section 8' on your Craigslist ad is a pretty substantial thing," he said.
Landlords strongly opposed the ordinance, describing it as a mandate forcing them to participate in an inefficient government program administered by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA). The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association launched an ad campaign against the ordinance earlier this month.
"In Minneapolis, the program has been broken, and today's vote by the council does nothing to reform MPHA," the trade association said in a statement Friday. "We call on the City Council to start being practical and actually make things better, not play politics with lives and businesses in the city."
The Section 8 program provides rent subsidies for low-income families. It serves more than 17,000 Minneapolis residents — more than half of them children — and more than 1,700 families are on the waitlist. The Housing Authority last opened the waitlist in 2008 and had more than 15,000 families sign up in the course of a few days.
The Minneapolis ordinance will apply to all owners, landlords and managing agents with one or more residential dwelling units. There are some exceptions, including those renting out part of an owner-occupied dwelling and those for whom renting to a voucher holder would cause undue financial hardship.
Property owners who decide to rent to a voucher holder will fill out paperwork to formalize their agreement with the tenant and undergo an initial MPHA inspection to make sure the unit meets federal standards. After that, MPHA inspections happen annually.
Over the next year, the city and the MPHA are planning to implement a slew of new policies and changes, including a fund to incentivize participating landlords, updates to the inspections process and more time for voucher holders to find a place to live.
"Any of the initiatives that we'll be working with will really revolve around customer service and trying to make the process easier for property owners to participate," said Kyle Hanson, managing director of the MPHA's voucher program.
Hanson said the MPHA has extended invitations for landlords to share their concerns and will do so again. "We want to hear from them," he said.