People cannot be denied a place to live based on their race or disability in Michigan, but some are being turned down based on where they get the money to pay their rent.
Veterans using assistance, retirees on Social Security, parents who get child support or families who use housing vouchers are not protected by anti-discrimination laws. All can be denied rental opportunities even though they have consistent income.
Nora Ryan, supervising attorney for Michigan Legal Help, said such restrictions defeat the purpose of housing vouchers, which are supposed to allow people greater access to homes and neighborhoods, but the vouchers are often difficult to use.
“You have a relatively short period of time to be able to place that voucher,” Ryan explained. “A lot of landlords do not accept those vouchers. You can actually run out of time to use that voucher, and you can lose it. That ticket to stable, affordable housing is cut off.”
In the Michigan Legislature, Senate Bill 205, Senate Bill 206 and Senate Bill 207 would prohibit source-of-income discrimination, and allow renters who are turned down the right to seek “remedies for the discrimination” if they can prove they suffered a loss as a result. The idea was first introduced in the 2021 session, and is still in committee this year.
Jim Schaafsma, housing attorney for the Michigan Poverty Law Program, said he is keeping an eye on the U.S. debt ceiling battle in Congress as well. He worries if money for federal housing programs does not increase based on the rate of inflation, vouchers and other types of assistance could be jeopardized.
He noted Michigan’s state legislation will not be enough to help the overall housing situation.
“What we need is a significant increase in the supply of affordable housing in Michigan,” Schaafsma asserted. “But even more specific to the voucher program, what we need are what are known as higher payment standards because the higher the value of a voucher, the better the opportunities are for families to rent units in the place of their choice.”
Adding urgency to the problem, rent for a typical home in the Detroit metro area has increased by nearly 36% in the past five years, according to Zillow’s March 2023 Rental Market Report.
This story was written by Farah Siddiqi, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.