Lexington lawmaker pushes for housing discrimination protection for low-income tenants

Lexington, Ky.–Kentucky lawmaker Lamin Swann (D-Fayette) is pushing for the state’s housing discrimination law to protect tenants who use government housing vouchers, private income assistance, child support, alimony, and other benefits to pay their bills. Swann’s House Bill 437 would add “sources of income” to the categories that are protected from discrimination under Kentucky housing law, which currently includes race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability, and national origin. While Louisville has some similar protections in place, the rest of the state does not.

Representative Lamin Swann (Official photo)

At a Monday press conference with members of tenants’ advocacy group KY Tenants, Swann said he believes it is unfair that landlords can pick and choose which income sources they want to accept. He argues that no one should be denied housing because of the type of income they receive, as this money is no different or less secure than what someone may receive through their job. The proposed bill has garnered support from KY Tenants, which includes Davita Gatewood of Lexington. Gatewood had to spend nine months searching for housing because landlords refused to accept her Section 8 voucher. She noted that landlords discriminate against low-income tenants because they might have had a bad experience with someone who used a voucher, or they might have heard of a bad experience with someone who used a voucher, and so they’ve decided they’re going to hold it against the entire group.

The Herald-Leader reported in October 2022 that real-estate investors have purchased hundreds of homes in Lexington’s working-class neighborhoods over the last few years, taking advantage of low interest rates. According to the report, the investors often raise rents considerably while refusing to accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers for low-income tenants, gentrifying some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods east and north of downtown. As a result, families who have held neighborhoods together for generations are being broken up, and the sense of community is gone.

Swann’s bill was filed with four Democratic co-sponsors from Lexington, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky on Feb. 21, but it hasn’t been assigned to a committee with 10 days remaining in the legislative session. While Swann’s bill is unlikely to become law this year, he said at the Monday’s press conference that he is hopeful “something will move soon.”

Similar protections have been proposed at the local level in Lexington, but that legislation, called the “Tenants’ Bill of Rights,” appears stalled for the time being as well.

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