The Milwaukee County Board is considering a proposed resolution that would force every residential landlord in the county to take part in the federal government's Housing Choice Voucher Program (more commonly known as Section 8).
The resolution, authored by Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, aims to eliminate discrimination against "tenants who have Section 8 vouchers" and would amend Chapter 107 of the Milwaukee County Code of General Ordinances (the county's Fair Housing Ordinance) to prohibit "unlawful discrimination in housing" against those who receive "rental or housing assistance."
The measure would treat receipt of rental assistance like race, gender, and disability and prevent landlords from refusing to rent to someone who receives Section 8 housing vouchers.
While this may sound noble in theory, in practice it will force every landlord in Milwaukee County into the Section 8 program...whether they want to be or not.
Federal Housing Choice Vouchers are paid for by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) but administered by local public housing agencies (PHAs). As HUD explains:
A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family's choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family's present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA.
A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.
HUD makes clear that landlord participation is completely optional, as units must be fully inspected before a family receiving a Section 8 voucher can move in. HUD sets out a set of general obligations each landlord must meet:
The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the program's housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the PHA.
Many landlords consider the government's definition of "reasonable rent," its quality standards inspections, and the additional accounting measures needed when renting to Section 8 tenants to be more burdensome than the federal payments are worth, so they simply choose not to accept Section 8 tenants.
Dimitrijevic's ordinance would make opting out impossible. If a prospective tenant who is eligible for Section 8 assistance chooses a particular landlord's apartment building, that landlord would be unable to decline to rent to that tenant (as it would be considered discriminatory).
This would result in every residential landlord in Milwaukee County being forced to accept Section 8 tenants--meaning that an optional federal program would become mandatory in the county.
At a public hearing Monday, the County Board's Economic and Community Development Committee delayed action on the measure until May.