Yesterday afternoon, homeless housing & service providers from the eastside submitted a letter to the Kirkland City Council stating their united support for Ordinance O-4384, which would prohibit the refusal to rent available housing based solely on a tenant’s use of a Section 8 voucher to pay a portion of their rent. The Section 8 program plays a vital role in giving low-income families access to safe, healthy, market-rate housing they can afford. Therefore, this ordinance supports one of the main ways to prevent homelessness and keep housing available to vulnerable populations in the City of Kirkland. Section 8 vouchers make housing affordable to residents who would normally be priced out of the private housing market. Unfortunately, it cannot be fully effective so long as landlords are allowed to refuse to rent to people solely because they are using a Section 8 voucher to pay part of their rent. In communities where rents are low and vacancies are high, private landlords are more than willing to accept vouchers and even lobby for new public funding for vouchers. But in communities like Kirkland, where vacancy rates are low and rents are highest, landlords are suddenly quick to judge voucher programs and reticent to accept the vouchers they so strongly supported for other markets. In the midst of King County’s hard fight to end homelessness, this is unacceptable. People at-risk of homelessness should not depend on a weak rental market to find housing. Low-income people in strong rental markets rely even more so on programs like Section 8 to access safe, healthy, affordable housing.
We understand that landlords have concerns about the Section 8 voucher program. Fortunately, many myths have been dispelled in the extensive public conversation regarding this proposal. Over the past 22 years, landlords in the cities of Seattle and Bellevue have operated under a similar ordinance with minimal disruption, despite initial widespread concerns. Local landlords have voiced similar fears, but they rest on inaccurate information. Here are the facts: · Great benefits to landlords: Under the Section 8 voucher program, the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) pays their share of the rent on time every month. KCHA adjusts payments to compensate for changes in tenants’ incomes, so tenants can stay in units, creating longer and more successful tenancies for all parties.
· Ability to charge market rent: KCHA looks at whether rent is reasonable and whether the tenant will have to pay more than 40% of income toward rent. If the rent is unreasonable or too high for that tenant, that apartment is simply not rented under the voucher program. The landlord is not forced to lower the rent or alter their terms.
· Effective screening for tenants who can afford to pay the rent each month: This ordinance does not alter landlords’ ability to use legitimate screening criteria to find good tenants.
Ultimately, the proposed ordinance merely levels the playing field for the vulnerable populations that rely on Section 8 vouchers to pay a portion of their rent, including seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and parents trying to move their kids out of situations of domestic violence. This year’s One Night Count of homeless individuals identified 197 unsheltered people on the eastside, a 42% increase from 2012. And the latest data from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) shows more than 3,000 Kirkland households are paying more than 50% of their income for housing, placing them at great risk for homelessness. As partners in the eastside’s fight to end homelessness, we ask Kirkland to support this critical ordinance to help ensure Section 8 participants have the opportunity to find a safe, healthy, affordable home in Kirkland.