On Nov. 14, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced bipartisan legislation that will outlaw discrimination in accessing housing based on source of income. S. 3612, the Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2018, prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income or veteran status, giving more families access to affordable housing, thereby fostering economic mobility.
As the director of Roads To Independence, a nonprofit organization that works with people with disabilities of all ages and types, I work with people who have a disability and are seeking to lead independent lives but are being turned away from rental housing because their source of income includes contributions other than wages. As housing prices soar in Utah, the gap between the cost of keeping a roof overhead and wages continues to grow. Many people with disabilities cannot meet that gap from wages alone and often rely on disability payments, Social Security, savings or family contributions to meet the rent. Discrimination based on disability is against the law, and so should be discrimination on using lawful sources of income to meet monthly housing costs.
Some of the people we work with are veterans. We work with disabled veterans who served our country with honor and now draw upon VA benefits and housing vouchers, but are turned away from housing. It is shocking that veterans who served our country with honor are now being denied lives of dignity and independence because of how they will pay their rent.
I know families whose wages are not sufficient to make their rent. They will, in the short term, rely on vouchers or on public payments to afford rent as they are working on educational attainment to increase their earnings. These hard-working families should not be turned away from living in neighborhoods close to schools, their employment and community services. Removing this unnecessary barrier to the path of self-reliance is not only good policy, it is the right thing to do.
Hatch’s proposed update to the Fair Housing Act does not mean that landlords can’t engage in regular screening regarding tenant history, including criminal background and credit history. Security deposits can still be required. It does not require landlords to alter the rent they regularly charge tenants. All tenants have to pay rent on time and maintain their rental unit. The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 eliminated inspection and administrative burdens for landlords.
Housing decisions should be made on merit, not based in harmful prejudices that hurt persons with disabilities, veterans or families in need. I am proud that Utah is one of 10 states that have a source-of-income anti-discrimination law.
It is time to make it the law of the land.
Hatch has led on creating opportunity all throughout his entire career in the Senate. From the Community Development Block Grant to this year’s expansion of the Housing Tax Credit, he works to ensure all people — regardless of circumstance — have access to safe and affordable housing.
Everyone deserves a place to call home. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to enact, before the end of the year, this simple but essential update to the Fair Housing Act.
Andy Curry is executive director of Roads To Independence, an independent living service provider in Ogden.