Athens City Council recently banned source of income discrimination (SOID), making it illegal for city landlords to discriminate against tenants who pay rent with public assistance, such as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Rental ads declaring "No HUD" or "No Section 8" and similar statements by landlords, long common in Athens, now constitute a criminal offense.
This is great news! According to HUD data and the Scholars Strategy Network, discrimination against voucher recipients is something that’s been making life even more difficult for our most vulnerable neighbors. Local voucher recipients experience extreme poverty, with an average household income of $10,421 per year. Women, people with disabilities and people of color all use vouchers to pay rent at disproportionate rates. In Ohio, 80% of people receiving rental assistance are women. In Athens County, 82% of people living in households using HCVs have disabilities. HVCs are intended to prevent vulnerable tenants from being homeless. No longer will we allow any landlords to deny people housing simply because they receive HVCs.
Even better, Athens isn’t alone in banning SOID. We join a rapidly increasing number of Ohio municipalities -- Bexley, Cincinnati, Cleveland Heights, Columbus, Linndale, Reynoldsburg, South Euclid, Toledo, University Heights, Warrensville Heights, Westerville and Wickliffe -- plus 19 other states and many more American cities.
But we still have our work cut out for us. Athens County has the absolute worst housing problems in all Ohio, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Our home ownership rate is much lower, and our poverty rate much higher, than the national rates. We have the worst income inequality in Ohio. We also have the state’s highest percentage of “rent overburdened” tenants, with 55% of renter households spending more than 35% of their gross incomes on rent.
To win safe and affordable housing for all our neighbors, everywhere in Athens County should ban SOID -- but that's not all. Like Reynoldsburg, we can require landlords to let tenants split security deposits into more manageable monthly installments (“renter’s choice”). Like Dayton, Lakewood, Toledo and Yellow Springs, we can allow tenants to stop eviction proceedings when they can pay back rent and reasonable late fees (“pay to stay”). We can correct notoriously lax enforcement of local housing safety regulations, make it harder for unscrupulous landlords to steal security deposits, make it harder to disregard tenants’ privacy by entering their homes without proper advance notice and more!
Recent victories for tenants make it clear -- our community can change for the better!
Reagan Neviska is a member of United Athens County Tenants.