A proposed amendment to ban source of income discrimination within housing was brought to the Athens City Council committee meeting on April 12 by Councilwoman Arian Smedley, D-1st Ward.
Smedley said this proposal was brought to her by a constituent, prompting her to look into the issue and eventually bring it forward to Council. She worked with Athens City Law Director Lisa Eliason to draft the language used, as well as ensure the legality of this change.
This amendment would be applied to Athens City Code, Title 3, section C, and would also include an amendment to the penalty section of the existing ordinance.
In the amendment, source of income is defined as “lawful income derived from wages, social security, supplemental security income, all forms of federal, state or local assistance payments or subsidies, including rent vouchers, child support, spousal support, and public assistance which can be verified and substantiated.”
Using that definition, source of income will be added to the list of protected classes throughout section C, excluding section C3, Eliason said. This is due to concerns regarding the city regulating how a bank distributes its funds.
Additionally, Smedley and her colleagues decided to exclude source of income from the section of the ordinance which bans segregation of assorted groups.
“In the hypothetical situation where, say, a developer wants to bring in a project to town that only caters to those who use a housing voucher, someone who is not eligible for a housing voucher could claim discrimination because they're being segregated from that population,” Smedley said. “By removing that, you protect those housing complexes that do try to cater to, for example, those with a housing voucher, from providing those housing opportunities.”
This issue has not been brought forward in Council previously, Councilwoman Chris Knisely said. However, it has been a concern with Athens’ community, Damon Krane, a Council candidate, said.
“I think Council is moving in the right direction on this, and I think that Arian Smedley deserves a lot of credit for that,” Krane said. “I think that the frustration is simply that this is where we could have been and should have been two years ago, when Sarah Grace and Beth Clodfelter both expressed support for banning source of income discrimination at an October 24, 2019 candidate forum.”
Smedley said that although this issue was mentioned at a forum in 2019, it was first put on her radar by a constituent who read about a similar change in Bexley, Ohio. Following her decision to bring the issue forward in the form of an amendment, Smedley worked with Eliason and others to make amendments to the penalty section of Title 3 as well.
These proposed amendments mainly work to clarify the consequences of violating this ordinance, Eliason said.
The amendment will classify a violation of the ordinance as a minor misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of no more than $150 each day there is a violation. Eliason also said it should be kept in mind that a violation of this ordinance is a criminal offense. Therefore, one must be proven in municipal court to be in violation in order to receive consequences.
Smedley said this amendment to the penalties section is very similar to a current bill within the state legislature. However, this may have to be revisited if the state revises its legislature, she said.
“Ultimately, I think we need to be looking at whether repeat offender landlords should continue to be granted rental permits from the city,” Krane said.
The first reading of this amendment occurred during a general Council meeting on May 17.
“The way Arian Smedley went about it was the right way too,“ Krane said. “I think she should have also done it two years ago but at least when she did bring it up, the first thing she did was talk to the city law director to ask, ‘Can we actually do this?’”