Minneapolis may soon require landlords to consider all potential tenants, including those who pay with federal housing vouchers, when offering apartments for rent.
The proposed change drew dozens of landlords, renters and community members to City Hall on Wednesday, where they offered hours of emotional, sometimes tearful testimony to City Council members weighing the issue.
While low-income renters urged the council to approve the measure, which has been in the works for two years, landlords said the requirement would be a burden. The debate has grown more contentious in recent weeks after the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association launched an ad campaign saying the ordinance would force landlords to raise rents.
City Council members who advanced the measure after the two-hour public hearing said it’s a way to combat discrimination. Under the ordinance, landlords could not turn down tenants simply because they are using a federal Section 8 housing voucher.
“At the end of the day, prohibiting discrimination is about giving people a fair shot,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who sponsored the ordinance with Council Members Abdi Warsame and Lisa Goodman.
Section 8 voucher holders comprise about 6 percent of Minneapolis’ rental market. Most are women and people of color; 40 percent have a disability, and 15 percent are seniors.
If the City Council gives final approval, the ordinance will go into effect May 1, 2018. The city is also planning to create a fund to incentivize participating landlords, track the effectiveness of the ordinance after one year and streamline the Section 8 process, which is administered by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
That didn’t satisfy the dozens of landlords at Wednesday’s hearing. Many said they’ve rented to voucher holders before, but found the Section 8 program poses an administrative burden. They said problems with the program should be worked out before an ordinance moves ahead.
“Reform is needed, but this mandate is not the answer,” said Bernadette Hornig of Hornig Companies. “To me, this isn’t politics. This is my business.”
Section 8 recipients told the council members of the challenges they’ve faced trying to find a landlord who would rent to them. Some said they found an apartment and then had to move when their landlords decided not to take vouchers anymore.
Linda Soderstrom described the feeling of seeing apartment listings with the “No Section 8” stipulation in them.
“This is very insulting to apartment seekers,” she said.
Council Member Barb Johnson voted to advance the ordinance, but said “it was hard for me to get there.” Johnson represents north Minneapolis, which has a disproportionate number of tenants who are voucher recipients. She said she’s familiar with complaints about the Section 8 program.
Goodman, who said her ward is home to a lot of landlords, said it also took her a while to get on board with the ordinance.
“I think this change — this civil rights change — is something that we have to do, she said.