Yesterday the Redmond City Council in a unanimous 7-0 vote passed an ordinance to outlaw discrimination based on a person’s source of income. Redmond joins 13 other states and 38 other local jurisdictions that have passed Source of Income Discrimination laws to ensure that vulnerable populations, such as veterans, families fleeing domestic violence, children, seniors, and people with disabilities, have an equal chance of renting a home. Seattle, Bellevue, and unincorporated King County have similar protections. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone solely because they are using a Section 8 voucher to help pay their rent.
Council Member Kimberly Allen spoke in support, stating: “It hit me close to home because one of the landlords that is refusing to rent to Section 8 tenants is my own, and frankly I am appalled at that. In this economy where so many people are facing such financial struggle to put one more impediment in their way after they’ve finally worked their way through years and years of being on the waitlist to get the voucher and then to find out on that one basis be told ‘sorry, we won’t rent to you…’ I just don’t think that’s the kind of community we want to be.”
The vote was prompted by the actions of one of Redmond’s larger property owners, Archstone Properties, who systematically terminated the tenancies of all Section 8 voucher holders. This decision was made at a national level, and after further inquiry it was found that the decision had nothing to do with the tenants themselves, nor with the housing authority administering the Section 8 vouchers. Considerable public pressure was put on Archstone, after which the notices were rescinded, but the damage was done. Only three of the 35 Section 8 tenants remain in Archstone properties in Redmond. This notice caused undue instability for many seniors, children and people with disabilities. The Tenants Union partnered with the Northwest Justice Project and fought the termination of one tenant who was forced into homelessness and successfully reinstated her tenancy.
The Tenants Union worked in collaboration with a broad coalition of Archstone tenants, community leaders and eastside service providers to urge the Redmond City Council to act. On February 2nd, 2012 the Council held a public hearing at which 20 people testified in favor of the ordinance. No Redmond property owners testified in opposition. Tenant leader Yezenia Hernandez, one of the remaining Archstone tenants who received a termination notice, implored the Council to act: “We are a family with kids, we are a family with disabilities, and it is not fair that they have the right because we are on Section 8 to discriminate against us. How long are we safe there, how long will this continue to be our home?”
Tenants Union Executive Director Jonathan Grant stated in his testimony: “The most common legal form of discrimination that is occurring in Washington State is source of income discrimination. The state lacks the jurisdiction to do anything so it has fallen on cities such as Redmond to protect low-income tenants from this type of discrimination.” Council Members responded unanimously to support the ordinance, and Council Member Pat Vache` affirmed: “It’s hard to imagine a negative impact of this ordinance yet it is pretty easy to see a lot of positive reasons for doing it; it helps us meet our community goals about affordable housing.”
Council Member John Stilin stated firmly: “It’s not a matter of where they’re getting money from, it’s just that you are discriminating, and we are not going to tolerate that in Redmond. It’s the quality of our community that allows you to charge the rents you charge to make a profit, and if you don’t want to share in our community maybe you don’t belong in our community.”
The City of Redmond’s passage of the law comes after the state legislature failed to enact source of income discrimination legislation in 2009, leaving the rest of Washington’s low-income tenants unprotected. Archstone properties also systematically terminated the tenancies of all of their Section 8 tenants in the City of Bothell, where it is still legal to discriminate against people based on their income.
To view the hearing: City of Redmond City Council Meeting February 7, 2012 or City of Redmond City Council Meeting Information. It is the 2/07/2012 meeting. The Source of Income discussion starts at 24:00.