Lexington renters and landlords have their say about source of income discrimination

WEKU | By Stu Johnson

Lexington City Hall has seen some rather lengthy public hearings in its time. Chalk one more up this week when the topic of housing was on the agenda. Specifically, the three-hour hearing focused on a proposed ban on “source of income discrimination.” City Council members got the perspective of renters and landlords during public comment.

Before the first person came to the podium in the Council Chamber, Jennifer Reynolds, chair of the Social Services and Public Safety Committee, addressed the crowd.

“Remember to be courteous and not to slander anyone. Our Council rules do not permit us to interact with comments. But, we are listening and we are taking notes,” said Reynolds

And while there were certainly times of emotional reflection and comments, those attending the hearing did listen without interrupting or interference.

The proposed language, suggested to be added to the current Fairness Ordinance, prohibits discrimination of rentals based on the source of income to pay for housing.

There were stories of significant challenges when housing meant couch suffering or sleeping in cars or sheds. Betsy Schein is with Kentucky Refugee Ministries and she spoke of housing those refugees.

“Lexington should be a sanctuary for people who are seeking a better life but without a ban on source of income discrimination, it is a limbo for low-income families who need housing now. We need this policy and it is the City Council’s responsibility to make sure it passes,” said Schein.

There were representatives from various organizations who addressed Council members. Alyssa Turk is with Greenhouse 17-a domestic violence shelter with various advocacy services in Fayette County.

“For many of our clients, short and long-term vouchers are the only way to get families on their feet to create safe homes for themselves and their children, sometimes for the first time ever. But when we can’t find housing to utilize these vouchers survivors are being forced to stay in shelter systems or stay in unsafe situations,” said Turk.

The topic of Section Eight Vouchers was a recurring theme during the public hearing. The voucher system provides rental assistance for very low-income families.

Sharon Price is director of the Community Action Council, based in Lexington and serving central Kentucky counties. It’s a well-known agency for providing a variety of services for the poor including Head Start. Price focused on children and a lack of permanent housing.

“There are many things that can affect how a child grows up, but one of the most important things is having a safe and steady place to call home. When families have a home that is stable, it is easier for their kids to do well in life,” said Price.

Several landlords and those representing rental properties offered their thoughts. Robert Jones is president of the Central Kentucky Apartment Association, representing 27,000 rental units and he is the owner of four rental units. Jones said the inventory of affordable units in Lexington is larger than the number of vouchers available.

 “So how is it possible that people cannot find a place to use their vouchers with that much inventory in an already equal inventory market to housing vouchers allocated? It’s difficult for me to believe that the lack of units are causing that problem.” Said Jones.

Jones says the Lexington Housing Authority can only do what’s allowed under the federal Housing and Urban Development program.

 Zach Peterson said he’s been working in real estate since 2011 and had accepted section eight up until about eight months ago. He said most tenants were phenomenal but it became costly, partly based on required inspections.

“There was huge delays on inspections. A lot of times with certain inspectors, they would just nit-pic stuff. Peeling paint on soffits, stuff like that that was costly that the tenant didn’t care about,” said Peterson.

Joe Marcum began his remarks, saying he and his wife own 22 single-family homes across Lexington, providing housing for 70 residents. The question of whether or not rent will increase if consideration of vouchers is required was a debated topic. Marcum said yes.

“This ordinance has a definite price. It will make housing more expensive in Lexington for every renter. It will establish a floor for the rental rates. This ordinance adds zero units of housing to the limited stock already available in Lexington,” said Marcum.

One of the more hard-hitting raw testimonies came from 18-year-old Lizzy Hunt, who offered a glimpse into her housing issues, including a lengthy period of divorce for her parents adding, money is always the issue. Afterward, she spoke on why she felt it was important to speak up.

“The ability to have self-confidence, cause we’ve seen how the lack of self-confidence has affected the people that are older than us. So, when we trust in ourselves and, you know, believe in ourselves, and say Hey actually maybe I do what I’m speaking on. Make sure I do know what I’m speaking on,” said Hunt.

The opportunity for public comment was a Council-initiated activity. Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton said she felt that approach was appropriate for the issue of rental housing.

“I think it’s a really good thing that the Council is having the hearings, is talking about it in committee and figuring out where to go next and whether it can be viable which I think a lot of cities have proven that it can be,” said Gorton.

If such a proposal became law, Committee Chair Jennifer Reynolds noted landlords would still be allowed to do background checks and to look into any renter like anyone else. But they could not discriminate based on where they get their money. Reynolds added a vote on the ban on source of income discrimination would likely occur at the next committee meeting in January.

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Republished with permission. Photo by Stu Johnson.