San Jose Outlaws Section 8 Voucher Discrimination

Lynette Mason lived on the streets for nearly six months after receiving a Section 8 housing voucher from the Santa Clara County Housing Authority.

She made more than 200 phone calls in the first month alone as she struggled to find a place that would accept her subsidy. She says most landlords wouldn’t even return her call, and many of those who did told her unequivocally: “No Section 8.”

“It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit that’s starving,” Mason lamented. “They were giving them out left and right it seemed like and there was nowhere to go.”

On Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council voted 9-2 to protect voucher-holders like Mason by barring landlords from rejecting prospective tenants with rental subsidies. Council members Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez were the dissenting votes.

Last year, the San Jose Housing Department conducted a review of listings on apartments.com and Craigslist and found that only 5 percent of property owners said they’d accept subsidized vouchers.

San Jose now joins the ranks of 42 other cities in the nation that have adopted policies to protect voucher holders. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act currently prevents discrimination based on a person’s “source of income,” however, the law doesn't classify housing subsidies as income.

Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, said she believes cities are working to correct what the state law left out.

“I think there are more and more jurisdictions that are understanding that we have a housing criss and affordable housing is not easy to come by,” she told San Jose Inside in an interview ahead of the council vote this week. “In general, we have vulnerable populations that are low-income and they are folks who disproportionately represent groups who are supposed to be protected by fair housing law.”

San Jose’s protections will include all types of rental units except for single-family homes where the landlord currently resides.

In an effort to bring landlords up to speed before hitting them with violation notices, the council also voted to abstain from any civil legal action for the first six months. Instead, the landlords will be given a one-time warning for that period.

“We’re introducing a new rule into a system,” Councilman Lan Diep explained. “People know they shouldn’t discriminate on gender, race, etcetera, but now we’re introducing this concept of income discrimination. I think we need time to adjust.”

The idea—proposed by a number of council members including Johnny Khamis, Pam Foley, Dev Davis, Diep and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones—was inspired by feedback from landlords. During the city’s outreach, property owners expressed the need for education so they wouldn’t be unfairly penalized for not understanding the new rules.

Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose’s housing director, said she agrees that it will take some time to adjust. “It takes numerous touches for somebody to get the message,” she noted.

But a few of the other council members—namely Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Jimenez —objected to what they saw as a needlessly lengthy adjustment period.

“Im not happy with the six month delay. I’m going to agree to it only because you need time Jacky,” Carrasco told San Jose’s housing director. “I feel like we’ve waited such a long time. It’s been four years.”

“I think what’s lost [from the discussion] is the plight of the poor folks marching around the city with voucher in hand with nowhere to go,” Jimenez added.

Once in effect, the city will have a number of enforcement options, such as issuing a citation or suing a landlord. But those measures won’t be without obstacles. “I think the bigger challenge is if someone went through an application and then was denied housing, that would require some kind of investigative work,” Morales-Ferrand conceded.

Khamis, Foley, Davis and Diep also wanted to add a provision to the law that would give property owners a 30-day right to cure period before legal action could be taken. That time would at least allow for arbitration.

“This regulation as it stands could open up lawsuits for anybody,” Khamis said, noting that people could bypass the housing department for the courts.

Arenas didn’t take kindly to the proposal.

“For me this is real simple, don’t discriminate and you won’t get fined,” she said. “I see this as an opportunity to talk more freely about Section 8 vouchers.” 

Housing officials resolved the debate by amending the law to say that if someone wants to take legal action, then they must first notify the housing department.

The initiative will come back for another reading and is slated to go into effect Sept. 26.

City officials also plan to return council in six months with updates on a slew of metrics, including the number of new landlords entering into Housing Assistance Payment contracts with the county’s Housing Authority and the average number of weeks it takes for new program participants to receive initial rent payments.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

8 Comments

  1. What could possibly go wrong with yet ANOTHER “housing law” in San Jose? Everything else the council has done over the last 4 years has been so extremely effective at adding supply and bringing prices down. Surely this will work out just the same.

    Sorry non-subsidized renters, you got screwed on this one. Rents will go up ever higher.

  2. “Dear Mr. Section 8 Housing Bureaucrat:

    The tenant you want me to rent to is no damn good. I don’t want him and you can keep your damn government money.

    First of all, he’s some kind of white supremacist and all he talks about is how the government is trying to screw him and make him pay for black baby mamas and their shiftless boy friends.

    He wants to park his pickup truck in the front yard, put it on blocks and change the transmission when he gets the money to buy a transmission that fits.

    His former landlord told me that when he isn’t working on his truck, he likes to sit in a lawn chair in front of his house, wearing a MAGA hat and camo pants, drink beer, and make out with his fat girl friend.

    He’s constantly cleaning his guns, and counting his boxes of ammo.

    He argues with his neighbors and tells them they should be much more Christian and stop voting for politicians who are communists or homosexuals.

    I like the Section 8 money, and I’ve jacked up the rent to well above what a real working person would pay, but the problem is that your preferred tenant is a pig and I will have to completely fumigate, detox, and rebuild the place after he moves out..

    Plus the fact that as long as he’s living there, I won’t be able to get any decent renters for any of the other units. The only other tenants I could get would be just like him.

    So, I’m not going to rent to this loser. I’m sure you will find some other greedy, scumbag landlord who will put up with him and take the money, But I’ve got a conscience and have to think about the children.

    Don’t call me.”

  3. Thank you for this article. After reading the article on this in the Mercury News this morning, I did now know what was voted on, and had no idea which council members voted for or against what. Now I do. This article is well written and has all of the pertinent facts.

  4. I rent to someone on Section 8. Just a normal person with a handicap. And years ago I rented my own house to someone on Section 8. No problems.

    I attended the City Council meeting where the anti-discrimination vote was taken. I was stunned when the head of Housing said that it typically takes four “touches” before a landlord wakes up to a new law. What if we licensed landlords? That we would could ensure that all landlords acted like professionals who educated themselves about housing law. There are too many landlords out there who ignore the law and plead ignorance when caught breaking a law. I have witnessed too many tenants in my neighborhood taken advantage of by their landlords who ignore laws they don’t like.

  5. It’s likely to be moot.

    The problem with Section 8 vouchers is that they don’t support the rent. If a landlord can get $3,000 then he won’t take $2,000 from a Section 8 tenant.

  6. Section 8 voucher holders have this reputation because we earned it. And it doesn’t matter what new hokey laws are put into place, the discrimination is going to continue until landlords are compensated with an incentive that minimizes the risk, after the housing authorities first raise the voucher rental payment amount to the fair market rate.
    Its all about greed, no matter how you look at it.
    The difference is, the landlords have every right to fair value and also have every right to choose the lower risk tenant who will mean he’s making money, over a high risk tenant who costs him money from the gate.
    It is not the landlords discriminating. It is our own housing laws discriminating against us by taking us out of the running before we even have a chance to compete. How the hell can I compete with a $950 1 bedroom vmmmmñoucher when the going rate is $1,300-$1,800 for a 1 bedroom? Only my own daddy would choose me over the guy ready to pay the asking rate: and even that’s questionable.

  7. I am a 64 disabled Viet Nan Veteran female looking for a descent place to rent with a good rental history and I am clean and responsible. My Hud Vash Voucher is for $2324.00, I have never had a problem with noise, or drugs, or alcohol or being disruptive to property of others. I would like someone to consider renting to me in the Santa Clara County. I an a retired Nurse from the Military and have been looking so hard for a place. Never had a Voucher before and I can truly say not all the potential renters are bad. The Government is giving an incentive fee of $1700.00 to the Land Lords who will rent to a Veteran under this program. I have been looking for months and my Voucher will expire 10-17-19, I hope someone would give me a chance to prove that there is some great people with vouchers who just need a chance to prove it. I am proud to be a Female Veteran and would love to get settled again after 6 months of searching endlessly and praying non stop for my own place again. I moved from up North to be closer to the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto and the S.J. area. When I left my place of 3.5 years, my Land Lady said it was the cleanest place she had ever seen, no damages, and was clean for the next tenant to move in just needing paint. Cleaning crew was only in there for 30 minutes or less. Can provide references upon request. Thank you for any consideration.

Leave a Reply to sjoutsidethebubble Cancel reply