City leaders are set to revisit a proposed ordinance Tuesday that advocates say could significantly help people in need of housing.
Proposed city ordinance changes would prevent landlords from denying someone housing just because a prospective tenant’s rent money comes from assistance such as vouchers, settlements, benefits, subsidies, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers and more.
The Lawrence City Commission on Dec. 13 voiced general approval for the ordinance, which would also create a protected class based on source of income. Mayor Lisa Larsen said she was concerned about passing it without further engagement with landlords who own Lawrence properties, and commissioners delayed final approval in order to seek landlords’ feedback on the proposed tenant protections.
Lawrence’s Human Relations Commission advanced the proposed changes after working for about two years and researching similar ordinances in other cities. The ordinance also provides “equal opportunity to obtain housing regardless of … status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.”
The city held a meeting Jan. 5 to invite landlords to provide feedback.
Panelists, including some city staff members, answered questions about practical aspects of what the ordinance means and how vouchers work. Many of those questions and their answers were provided in the written agenda materials for the city commission’s Tuesday meeting:20230117-Source-of-Income-FAQs
One landlord made a comment about “good, hardworking people” who can’t find places to rent. Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, responded that LDCHA has about 1,000 housing vouchers. Of those, about two-thirds are for people who are elderly or disabled; the other third of program participants must either be working or in school, she said.
“The fact that somebody is disabled or elderly and on a fixed income does not mean they should be unhoused,” Oury said. “Think about it as if you said ‘I won’t take anybody who has Social Security or Social Security Disability income.’ It’s the same idea here. It’s no different.”
Several landlords asked questions about protection if their properties are damaged.
“I would love for every landlord to take the stigmatization away that somebody receiving a subsidy is somehow different than any other tenant — they’re exactly the same,” said Mariel Ferreiro, landlord liaison for LDCHA. “So that risk factor that you take on with any tenant is the exact same.”
However, she said, LDCHA does have funding to mitigate damage, and she would encourage landlords to call her if they’re seeing an issue.
One landlord asked why property owners have stopped accepting vouchers. Ferreiro said that over the past year and a half, many properties have changed hands and the new owners have refused to accept vouchers.
“I have not gotten a solid answer from a single landlord that I have asked (why), other than ‘We just do not want to,’ and that has been a very unfortunate answer,” Ferreiro said.
In addition to several community members, representatives of local nonprofits Independence Inc. and the Ballard Center sent letters to the city commission voicing support for the ordinance. Some community members also submitted written comments opposing the ordinance, citing concerns about overreaching government, potential for property damage and nonpayment by tenants.
“A landlord will sign a housing assistance payment contract that is a contract between all three parties (Housing Authority, tenant, and landlord),” according to the agenda materials. “It essentially states that there is a subsidy that the landlord will get on a monthly basis and that both parties should uphold and maintain the lease. With this the landlord will receive a subsidy every month on the first of the month. The payment is guaranteed in the form of check or direct deposit.”
The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Meetings are also livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel. See the full agenda at this link.
The commission hears public comment from those who attend meetings in person and those who attend via Zoom; register for the Zoom meeting at this link. The commission also accepts written public comment sent via email to email@example.com until noon the day of the meeting.
See the full proposed ordinance at this link, from the commission’s Dec. 13 meeting.
Here’s Tuesday’s full agenda item with public comments received through Friday, Jan. 13:20230117-Source-of-Income