Low-income renters and homeless people struggling to find a place to live that accepts housing subsidies may soon find some relief.
The San Jose City Council on Tuesday plans to review a law that would bar landlords from discriminating against renters with subsidies such as Section 8 vouchers.
“The adoption of the Housing Payment Equality Ordinance will enhance housing stability for tenants by providing increased access to housing options for low-income residents who receive rental assistance subsidies,” San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand and Budget Director Jim Shannon wrote in a memo. “It will achieve this by prohibiting rejection of prospective tenants who receive rental assistance.”
According to a 2018 survey conducted by San Jose’s Housing Department, only 5 percent of landlords on Craigslist and apartments.com said they’d accept subsidized vouchers. Some 39 percent said they wouldn’t accept them, 27 percent flat-out advertised that they wouldn’t accept them and the remaining 29 percent were not reachable for the survey.
The new law would apply to all rentals including single family homes, duplexes, multiple-unit dwellings with three apartments or more, co-living developments, granny cottages and mobile homes. The only exclusion would be if the room for rent is in a single family home where the landlord currently resides.
The law also identifies what a landlord can’t do, like imposing certain terms on the rental unit, advertising that they don’t accept housing vouchers or using an income standard that’s not based on the portion of rent paid by the tenant.
The law also outlines a number of enforcement options, such as the city attorney’s office filing a civil action suit against the landlord.
Since the council’s push for the new ordinance last December, the city has done extensive outreach with both renters and landlords. Before Tuesday’s meeting, a few dozen property owners sent city officials a standardized email imploring them to reject the law, calling it “complicated and problematic.”
In another letter from the California Apartment Association, Vice President of Public Affairs Anil Babbar wrote that while they supported the “mission” of housing vouchers, San Jose’s proposal is too broad
“Accepting a voucher most often requires property inspections and government reviews that can take anywhere from two to four weeks to complete, time that an owner may not be receiving rent on the unit,” Babbar wrote. “Then upon clearing all the hurdles with the Housing Authority, it can take up two months to receive the first rent check. It’s that kind of bureaucracy that discourages owners from opting into the program.”
Ferrand and Shannon wrote in their memo that many landlords expressed the need for education and that first-time offenders shouldn’t be harshly penalized. Renters, on the other hand, were worried that landlords would continue to discriminate, “resulting in wasted energy and expectations for voucher holders seeking housing.”
Council members Johnny Khamis, Pam Foley, Dev Davis and Lan Diep took some of those recommendations and incorporated them into a memo released Friday afternoon. In it, they requested that enforcement for the law would take effect one year after its adoption, giving landlords enough time to fully understand the ordinance. It would also modify the rules to protect property owners by giving them a 30-day “right to cure period” before the prospective renter could take any civil legal action.
Lastly, Khamis, Foley, Davis and Diep asked that the city tweak the law to make it clear that while it does create equal opportunity for voucher-holders, that doesn’t mean a landlord is under the obligation to rent to them.
“It is in the public interest, as well, for us to ensure that rental housing providers accept applications from all applicants, that they are treating all applicants fairly, and they are not disseminating advertising that is discriminatory against Section 8 recipients,” the councilors wrote. “The city also has an interest in ensuring that we are not overburdening rental providers with onerous mandates in which they are not educated [and that] we do not discourage their participation in the rental market.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Council members Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas put out a memo asking housing officials to give the council updates on the progress of the new law. In particular, they were curious about an increase in the number of landlords entering into contracts with the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, as well as the city’s enforcement results.
They also asked for an update on how they could incentivize landlords to participate in the program. Councilors originally requested that information at a meeting last December. Morales-Ferrand and Shannon said they would be exploring incentives such as speeding up when a landlord receives that first rent check from the voucher program.
The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the agenda.