Organization calls on Hawaii Legislature to address housing discrimination
by Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square, Feb 8, 2022
(The Center Square) – The Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness (HICH) is calling on the Legislature to make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants who receive rental assistance.
The group released a brief that cites legislation under consideration by the Hawaii Legislature.
Senate Bill 206 recently passed the Senate and is now in the House. The bill would prohibit discrimination against potential tenants because they have a section 8 voucher. A similar bill was passed recently by the Senate Consumer Protection Committee.
Additionally, Senate Bill 2468 gives counties the authority to prohibit rental discrimination. The Senate Housing and Government Operations Committee unanimously recommended approval of the bill.
The HICH said in its brief that jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia have seen higher frequencies of vouchers being used after prohibiting landlords from discriminating against potential tenants for using them.
“We think it’s time to eliminate the stigma that often comes with using a housing subsidy, and this is the key first step in achieving that,” said Bob Wardlaw, the advocacy committee chair for Partners in Care, O‘ahu’s Continuum of Care. “Ultimately, there is no difference in whether rent comes from someone’s pocket or from a subsidy. We all deserve the dignity of affordable, decent housing.”
Advocates said increased purchases by out-of-state investors have contributed to unaffordable housing costs for many locals who must resort to vouchers in order to afford housing.
“Discrimination has reached a boiling point, leaving people who are employed and ready to move into housing with no option but to stay in a homeless shelter or on the street, praying they find a home before their voucher expires,” said Brandee Menino, HICH member and advocacy committee chair of Bridging the Gap.
Menino said they have worked with landlords who keep coming back because of positive experiences with Section 8 tenants.
“I think if more landlords gave these folks a chance, many would feel the same way,” Menino said.
In its policy brief, the HICH said Hawaii consistently has ranked at the top of the most-unaffordable states in the country because of high housing costs. In 2018, 42% of the population was living in poverty or fell into the Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed population, the brief said.
“Hawaii would benefit from joining other states and localities in legally protecting households against discrimination based on their rental assistance,” the authors of the brief said. “This would give people more equitable footing in accessing rental housing.”