Bills would mandate fair treatment for housing seekers regardless of their source of income

LANSING, Mich., March 16, 2021 — State Rep. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp), state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) announced legislation today that would mandate fair treatment for people seeking housing, regardless of the lawful source of their income. Many households are turned away by landlords or lenders because they get income from sources such as veterans’ benefits, Section 8 housing assistance, child support, or disability benefits. The legislation would require all sources of legal income to be treated equally. The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness is supporting the bills as part of today’s Homelessness Advocacy Day.

The House and Senate bills sponsored by Rep. Cavanagh and Sen. Bayer would amend the Landlord and Tenant Relationships Act to require that all types of lawful income be accepted as payment and included in affordability screening. “Families who receive benefits or housing assistance deserve to have the same access to housing within their budget as any other family,” Cavanagh said. “No one should spend years on a wait list for housing assistance, only to have their voucher expire before they can find a place that will accept their money.”

“Every Michigan resident deserves access to affordable housing and our government must protect the most vulnerable from discrimination,” Bayer said. “Prejudice and institutionalized racism must not dictate access to one of our basic human rights. We simply have to do better to provide the security that hardworking families need, and that starts by putting a roof over their heads.”

The bills sponsored by Rep. Rabhi and Sen. Irwin, would extend the protections of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to mandate equal treatment for people in housing transactions regardless of source of income. The bills would also authorize the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to investigate cases and enforce this protection. “Source of income discrimination falls hardest on people with disabilities, women, and people of color,” Rabhi said. “This bill makes it clear that all Michiganders should be treated fairly when they are looking for a place to live.”

“It is imperative that we enact protections to ensure people aren’t being denied housing just because of the source of their income,” Irwin said. “Putting the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the case will provide a strong enforcement component to combat this longstanding contributor to residential segregation.”

Associate Director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, Laurel Burchfield, said “Housing vouchers are a great tool for low income families to find stable housing in neighborhoods with good opportunities. Vouchers provide financial stability for both renters and landlords, and COVID-19 has only increased the need. But they only work when landlords accept them. Nationally, in places with no protections, 77 percent of prospective tenants with vouchers were told a landlord would not accept them, compared to 35 percent in areas with source of income protections. Protecting voucher holders is a win-win: it will help landlords find consistent, reliable renters and help Michigan families find safe, accessible housing.”