Bill Increases Affordable Housing Options for Low-Income Families

February 16, 2016


SACRAMENTO – A new bill introduced by Senator Mark Leno today increases affordable housing opportunities for low-income families and veterans in California. SB 1053, the Housing Opportunities Act, ensures that all Californians have a fair opportunity to seek and retain housing, particularly when they use a federal rental subsidy as a method of payment. Current law allows landlords to deny prospective low-income tenants the ability to apply for housing simply because they receive a housing voucher.

“All tenants should have a fair opportunity to apply for housing, regardless of whether they receive a housing voucher,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Denying families the right to find affordable homes or remain in their existing homes puts peoples’ lives in upheaval and severely exacerbates our housing crisis.”

The Housing Opportunities Act amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to clarify that housing subsidy vouchers are a protected source of income. The bill ensures that landlords cannot deny low-income families and veterans the opportunity to apply for rentals or evict them based solely on the fact that they receive a voucher. Landlords can still screen prospective tenants for credit, criminal history and other criteria to establish their ability to rent.

More than 300,000 families in California, many of which include children, people with disabilities and seniors, receive a Housing Choice Voucher to help make rent affordable. Families with vouchers find housing in the private market and pay 30% of their income in rent. The federal government subsidizes the rest. However, many landlords advertise that people with “Section 8” vouchers are not eligible to apply for housing. Consequently, many low-income families are forced to return their vouchers because they cannot find a landlord willing to accept them.

“Preventing California families and veterans from using their housing vouchers perpetuates a cycle of poverty and segregation,” said Jith Meganathan, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It also means that California may be leaving unused federal funding on the table.”

California is facing a housing crisis of historic proportions. “The poorest 25% of California’s households spend an average of 67% of their income on housing. Elevated housing costs lead to higher rates of homelessness and reduce a person’s ability to provide other basic necessities, such as food and health care, for their families. While California has yet to act, 10 other states, including New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Oregon, have created laws ensuring that housing subsidies are a protected source of income.

“Due to unforeseen health issues, my family and I are in limbo right now and must find a new place to live,” said Zella Knight, a volunteer housing commissioner in Los Angeles County. “We have to rely on housing vouchers until we get back on our feet, but knowing that many landlords won’t even consider us as tenants causes great stress. The voucher program is a springboard that lifts people out of homelessness, but it’s only a win-win if both landlords and tenants participate.”

“Denying a tenant the opportunity to apply for housing conflicts with the central aim of the housing voucher program, which is to alleviate the affordable housing crisis,” said Michael Lane, policy director with the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California. “Housing vouchers are especially critical in our efforts to end chronic homelessness among veterans.”

SB 1053 will be heard in Senate policy committees this spring.