It may soon be illegal for landlords to reject tenants who use low-income housing vouchers, or Section 8.
The Atlanta City Council approved legislation Monday that would make those tenants a protected class under the city’s fair housing law.
The current definition prohibits discrimination based on qualities like race, age and sexual orientation. The new legislation would add “source of income” to the list. Previously, nothing prevented landlords from saying, “no.”
The legislation comes as it has become increasingly hard for recipients of Section 8 vouchers to find willing landlords in the city. According to the ordinance, more than a thousand vouchers expired over the course of a year because the tenants couldn’t locate housing.
The difficult search for units typically comes after a voucher holder has already waited some time — potentially years — to get the rental subsidy. The last time the Atlanta Housing Authority opened its waitlist in 2017, it received 80,000 applications. Only 30,000 made it on the waitlist.
The ordinance preventing discrimination against Section 8 tenants, sponsored by council members Antonio Brown and Amir Farokhi, sailed through the Atlanta City Council committee process, and all but two council members ultimately voted to adopt the ordinance.
But the Atlanta Apartment Association told the council that the effort was misguided. Landlords turn down Section 8 not because of the tenants, but because the program is inefficient and bureaucratic, the association’s president, Jim Fowler, said.
Council member Howard Shook, who voted against the definition change, also voiced concern that the legislation could contradict state law. Georgia code says cities can’t expand the definition of fair housing beyond the state’s, which does not include source of income.
The city’s law department proposed an amendment that would delay the adoption of the discrimination language until the Georgia General Assembly allowed it. The majority of City Council members ultimately decided against the amendment.
Now that the City Council has approved the legislation, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms still needs to sign the expanded fair housing definition into law. The new protections would then go into place six months later.
Dozens of cities and states around the country have adopted anti-discrimination laws for Section 8 tenants. Atlanta would be the first city to do so in Georgia.