A new report from SouthCoast Fair Housing entitled “It’s About the Voucher” finds that “source of income discrimination imposes steep barriers to renting for low-income Rhode Islanders who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher (HVC) program. With a voucher, participating tenants should be able to afford roughly 34 percent of the apartments advertised online each day around the state. In actuality, discrimination narrows the share of housing opportunities closer to 7 percent.”

Red dots show landlords who discriminate based on source of income. Blue dots sow landlords who do not.

Though the study analyzed the effects of Housing Choice Vouchers, “It’s worth reiterating that source of income discrimination affects Rhode Islanders beyond any single program. Tenants who financially rely on child support, alimony, Social Security, veterans’ benefits and emergency housing stabilization programs are similarly vulnerable.”

The report recommends:

  • Protecting “a comprehensive array of lawful income sources, including federal, state and local public assistance programs'”
  • Clarifying “how landlords should apply gross monthly minimum income requirements to tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers and other, similar subsidies; and”
  • Enacting “a vigorous enforcement structure that discourages landlords from resorting to more covert forms of income-based discrimination.”

“This type of discrimination occurs when a landlord rejects a tenant or treats a tenant differently, solely based on the type of income on which that tenant relies,” said Claudia Wack, legal fellow at SouthCoast Fair Housing. “So if you’re a Rhode Island resident, what that means is that you can have great tenant qualifications, you can afford a particular apartment you’re trying to lease but you might still find that a landlord turns you away because your income comes from social security, or child support. You might be rejected because you’re planing to pay your rent with a housing assistance voucher, or even your veteran’s benefits.

“14 states, including many of Rhode Island‘s neighbors like Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, now prohibit these practices under the recognition that they restrict housing opportunities for individuals and families who literally are able and willing to pay?”

Kristina de Fonseca, executive director of SouthCoast Fair Housing:

Sarah Conlisk, Annelise Ernst, Lucas Fried and Nathaniel Pettit, students from Brown University‘s Urban Studies Department and Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE):

Claudia Wack:

A video from Signs of Providence, a media collective confronting Rhode Island’s housing crisis:

Senator Harold Metts Democrat, ( District 6, Providence) is introducing a bill in the Rhode Island Senate:

Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) is introducing a bill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives:

Claudia Wack:

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