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Lawrence City Commission to vote on proposed ordinance change aimed at helping people find housing

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Lawrence city commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on proposed changes to city ordinances that advocates say could help people secure housing.

Commissioners — for the third time in recent months — will discuss the proposed change, which creates a protected class based on source of income. That means that landlords could not discriminatorily deny someone housing just because their rent money will come from a housing voucher, settlement, benefit, subsidy, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher and more.

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The ordinance also provides protection for tenants regardless of their status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.

Two versions of the proposed ordinance are included in the agenda materials; one version would also disallow discrimination based on prospective tenants’ immigration status.

The city’s Human Relations Commission advanced the proposed changes after working for about two years and researching similar ordinances in other cities. Immigration status was included in the HRC’s initial proposed ordinance, but city staff did not include it in the version of the ordinance that the city commissioners considered.

Local housing advocates have said that source of income protections could significantly help lessen Lawrence’s housing crisis, because many families who qualify for housing vouchers are unable to find landlords who will accept them.

Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, has said in previous meetings that about two-thirds of LDCHA’s housing vouchers are for people who are elderly or disabled; the other third of program participants must either be working or in school.

“The fact that somebody is disabled or elderly and on a fixed income does not mean they should be unhoused,” she 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.”

Lawrence city commissioners have largely indicated that they are in favor of the ordinance, but they have delayed approval, first to hear more from landlords and then to deal with some concerns about how the ordinance would impact real estate. (Read more previous coverage of this issue at this link.)

If the commission approves either proposed ordinance change Tuesday, it will go into effect June 1, “in order to provide time to continue education efforts in the community,” according to the agenda item.

The commission’s regular meeting will start at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Meetings are also livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel. See the full meeting agenda at this link.

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Commissioners will accept written public comment until noon the day of the meeting sent to ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. 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

Here’s the full agenda item, including public comment received as of Monday afternoon:

20230213-Source-of-income-protections-round-3

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage of housing and homelessness:

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Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

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