Council’s abrupt exit during public comment on housing discrimination raises questions

Lexington, KY — A moment of disarray unfolded during Thursday’s Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting when several councilmembers and the mayor left the chamber just before the public comment section. This procedural misstep nearly blocked comments from members of KY Tenants, a local housing advocacy group, who were there to speak on the issue of source of income discrimination in housing.

A KY Tenants organizer reacts to At-Large Councilmember Chuck Ellinger’s point of order. (LexTV)

At-Large Councilmember Chuck Ellinger called a point of order due to the lack of quorum, which could have led to the meeting’s adjournment. The meeting resumed after At-Large Councilmember James Brown briefly left and returned to the chamber with Councilmember Denise Gray, who had previously exited.

Councilmember Denise Gray later returned to the meeting, allowing public comment to continue. (LexTV)

The Debate: Discrimination Based on Source of Income

KY Tenants advocates for a ban on landlords refusing tenants based on their source of income, notably for those using housing choice vouchers. The group members emphasized that similar bans exist in 17 states and 106 cities and counties, and are effective in improving housing access for individuals relying on third-party payments.

KY Tenants also challenges local landlords’ argument that rents would increase due to such a ban, citing data that suggests minimal impact on rent prices. Louisville, Kentucky, enacted a similar ban in December 2020 and has not seen significant rent hikes compared to the national average or Lexington.

The Numbers

According to a 2018 study, 77% of landlords in cities without these protections decline applicants using vouchers. With the ban, this rejection rate drops to 35%. Local data also indicates that the time from enrollment in a housing assistance program to moving into a new home has increased by 266% since 2019, averaging 121 days. This puts tenants with housing vouchers at increased risk of housing instability.

A Decision Looms

Council’s Social Services and Public Safety Committee will decide on October 10th whether to put the ban on source of income up for a vote. KY Tenants is encouraging community members to email the council by October 9th to express their support. They argue that landlords and their allies are using “scare tactics and false arguments” in their communications to the council.

Public Perception

The councilmembers’ premature departure has added another layer to ongoing questions about the council’s familiarity with procedural rules and decorum. With six freshman councilmembers, some may see this episode as a lack of procedural competence rather than a refusal to engage with constituents.

The October 10th decision is anticipated to be a litmus test for the council’s position on housing discrimination. As both sides of the debate intensify their efforts, the community is keenly watching to see how their elected officials will vote.

Top photo: The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council lacked a quorum during public comment at their September 28 meeting after several members and the mayor walked out early. (LexTV)