Marin County Passes Anti Discrimination Rental Subsidy Ordinance

 By Melanie Nathan, Nov 17, 2016.

Fair Housing Anti discrimination measures extended to tenants with rental subsidies

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-2-02-45-pmTo further its commitment to promote housing affordability and housing equity in one of the nation’s most expensive places to live, the County of Marin took a historic step November 8 to establish equal opportunities for lower-income families, veterans and individuals with disabilities who have a rental subsidy.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously November 8 to adopt a Fair Housing Ordinance that protects tenants and applicants with rental subsidies, such as “Section 8” or Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers, in the unincorporated areas of Marin. The County is one of only four municipalities that have elected to fill a gap in California law by enacting an ordinance to prevent housing providers from discriminating against applicants and tenants based on how they pay rent.  

Rental subsidies are intended to promote desegregation and encourage recipients to move to areas with access to better housing, schools and jobs. In a nation where a ZIP code may determine lifespan, education, income, and health outcomes, such fair housing programs are seen as a critical step toward racial integration and the development of equal opportunity for all. Rent subsidies provide local housing providers with millions of dollars and stabilize lower-income families who pay 30 percent of their income toward rent.

Once the ordinance goes into effect on December 8, 2016, landlords will be prohibited from advertising a preference for an applicant’s source of rent payment.

“As part of our efforts in responding to the significant housing challenges many residents are facing, the Board of Supervisors has removed one unfair obstacle lower income households have long encountered,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey, President of the Marin County Board of Supervisors. “This ordinance requires landlords to accept government-backed payments as a reliable source of tenant income. With that single action, we’re assuring thousands of families they’ll have more options to find a place to live in this critically tight housing market. Also, we’re ending a historic way that housing discrimination has continued in Marin and staying on a course to achieve all our housing opportunities being equally accessible.”

The November 8 Board vote came three months after the Board allocated $450,000 toward a gamut of landlord incentives, crafted in partnership with local housing providers. In preparation for the Fair Housing Ordinance, Marin Housing Authority (MHA) and Community Land Trust Association of West Marin (CLAM), in partnership with the County’s Community Development Agency, worked closely with the landlord community to develop and launch programs tailored to address landlord concerns with accepting Section 8 vouchers. The resulting incentives provide guarantees for participating landlords such as money for “vacancy loss coverage” and a “loss mitigation pool.”

MHA, which oversees federally subsidized housing, also expanded its support services to landlords. It recently established a 24-hour hotline, staffed by a “landlord liaison,” available to housing providers who may call with routine questions as well as urgent requests and complaints. Additional perks such as forgivable loans for capital improvements, grants and reductions in planning and building fees sweetened the deal.

The Fair Housing Ordinance and the accompanying Landlord Partnership Program are part of a phased implementation plan to combat Marin’s housing affordability crisis, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in February 2016. In the coming months, the County plans to pursue these work items, which include consideration of short-term rental guidelines, reevaluation of second unit policies and programs, and consideration of restricting no cause evictions.

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