Landlords can be picky about pets, credit scores and rental history, but Minneapolis officials are looking to bar another common stipulation of apartment listings: “No Section 8.”
A proposal by two City Council members would make Minneapolis the first city in the metro area to say landlords cannot turn away tenants solely for paying rent with government housing vouchers. A preliminary meeting with landlords about the idea is slated for Thursday, with a tenant-focused public meeting on Friday.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, a co-author of the ordinance, said rejecting applicants who are using vouchers makes unfair generalizations about the program and those who rely on it.
“Some of [the ads] just say no Section 8 need apply,” Glidden said. “That is saying that you are making an assumption about the program. It’s also maybe saying you’re making an assumption about the type of person who would be part of the program.”
But the proposal is stoking concerns among local landlords who say it will create significant administrative burdens that will ultimately raise rents.
The proposed ordinance “will result in making finding rental housing more difficult in the city of Minneapolis,” Mary Rippe, president of the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, said in a written statement. “If Minneapolis wants to continue to grow its population and attract developers — this ordinance will have the opposite effect.”
The proposed change echoes rules in many states and cities across the country. Draft language also includes exceptions for landlords when compliance would cause “undue hardship.”
Minnesota law already prohibits discrimination based on enrollment in public assistance, but a 2010 appeals court decision found it did not preclude landlords from declining housing vouchers for legitimate business reasons. Accepting federal vouchers requires additional, specialized inspections, for example.
The move comes amid increased attention around Section 8 issues in the Twin Cities area. The Met Council recently began a suburban program that aims to help young families with Section 8 vouchers find homes in low-poverty areas with good schools.
Clusters of usage
About 5,200 vouchers were used in Minneapolis last year, predominantly by minority households led by women, according to federal data. Use of the vouchers in Minneapolis is largely clustered in the poorest areas of the city: Cedar-Riverside, Phillips and the North Side. Parts of Uptown and areas below 40th Street in south Minneapolis had far fewer, by comparison.
“There are some locations in the city where someone could afford to be there with a voucher, but we’re not seeing participation,” Glidden said.
HOME Line, a tenant advocacy group pushing for the change, surveyed more than 200 Minneapolis properties totaling about 7,000 units last year. Only about 14 percent of the units accepted Section 8 vouchers. Many of those had rents above the program’s subsidy levels.
But accepting the vouchers also adds a layer of complexity. Federal rules require the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to inspect each participating unit before it is rented with a voucher, and once a year while the tenant is living there. That’s in addition to the city’s normal housing inspections.
Concerns about inspections were the most frequently cited reason for not participating when the Minneapolis-based Family Housing Funding interviewed landlords. The property owners highlighted long wait times for inspectors, then having to schedule a new inspection if problems were identified — leaving the unit unoccupied.
Bernadette Hornig, a property manager with Hornig Companies, which owns about 2,000 units in Minneapolis, said the extra inspections slow down the move-in process — often over technicalities. Only one of Hornig’s Minneapolis buildings accepts Section 8 vouchers.
“They have to follow the criteria. And I respect that,” Hornig said. “But it adds additional maintenance costs and headache where you then have to get reinspected.”
Landlords have also raised concerns about recouping costs when damage to units exceeds the security deposit of tenants who cannot pay. Glidden said the city is exploring the idea of a “damage pool” to help landlords with repair costs.
Lael Robertson of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid stressed that landlords would still be free to screen tenants based on other criteria. Robertson argued the losing side of the 2010 appeals court case.
“The purpose of the ordinance is not to require landlords to take vouchers,” Robertson said. “It really is to say, ‘Don’t deny them because they’re a voucher holder.’ There’s a difference there.”