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Housing voucher anti-discrimination bills get committee hearing

Myesha Johnson

Housing discrimination based on the source of someone’s income would be illegal under Michigan bills that received a committee hearing Tuesday.

Currently, Michigan landlords can deny a unit to someone because they depend on housing vouchers or other subsidy programs.

The bills would change both state landlord-tenant and civil rights laws to ban that practice.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is a package sponsor. He says the bills would help get more people in vulnerable situations into housing.

“This is a problem in communities all over our state where folks are receiving veterans benefits or child support, particularly around Section 8 benefits, are being discriminated against,” Irwin said.

That point was echoed by several speakers and housing advocates throughout the course of the nearly 90 minute meeting.

Lisa Chapman is the director of public policy for the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.

“Vouchers and other forms of rental assistance can be a lifeline for people who are struggling to get back on their feet. However, the program only works when landlords are willing to rent to voucher holders,” Chapman said.

Some groups are concerned about whether the bills as written would block landlords from ensuring tenants’ ability to pay rent consistently.

Erika Farley is the director of the Rental Property Owners Association of Michigan. She says she hoped to work with the bill sponsors on changes to the package to address those worries.

“Our goal is to make sure the program is working for the property providers and for the residents. That’s the main goal here,” Farley said.

Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers shared their own concerns about the impact the bills would have on landlords and the broader effects of treating vouchers as income in certain cases.

“If we make this change, what we’d be saying is that the State of Michigan doesn’t consider this income for tax purposes, the government’s not going to treat it as income, but we’re going to force private enterprise to treat it as income when they’re doing their business,” Sen. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Allen) said to Irwin during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Irwin replied that would be a “not unfair” way to describe the legislation's implications.

The bills remain in committee for further work.

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