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City Council considers ordinance to prevent housing discrimination

SAN DIEGO  -- The San Diego City Council Tuesday considered a code amendment prohibiting housing discrimination against applicants who use Section 8 vouchers or other rent subsidies.

Section 8 vouchers aren't protected by state law, which prohibits discrimination against tenants based on income source. Local landlords are allowed to refuse to rent to certain individuals as a business practice, and some reject renters who receive the vouchers.

“We are here today to put an end to this discrimination, “ said City Councilmember Georgette Gomez, adding, “and opening access to housing for all San Diegans regardless of if they receive rental assistance.”

Tuesday, Gomez introduced an ordinance that would prevent landlords from turning away potential renters because they are receiving government assistance.  She introduced the measure surrounded by renters who say they have been discriminated against.

Demmie Delkie is 16.  Her single mother works two jobs to make ends meet.  She said a developer bought the apartment building she had called home since childhood and immediately increased the rent. The increase effectively priced out her family and other residents.

“I believe that it’s because when the rent goes up, they kick all the people out. So it’s like washing out the low income right out of the way.”

When Delkie and her mother tried to rent another apartment, the landlord slammed the door in their face after learning they received Section 8 housing vouchers,

“It makes me feel downgraded, like I was always below everybody,” said Delkie, “We felt like we couldn’t do anything about it. We were just reacting to everybody’s actions.”

The proposed code amendment would block landlords from rejecting applicants based solely on voucher status, though they would still retain a right, based on other rental criteria, to choose residents who don't use subsidies.

Other local California governments with such provisions include Berkeley, Corte Madera, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Santa Monica and Woodland.

San Diego's proposed ordinance would also establish a landlord contingency fund for property damage or lost rent related to renters with vouchers.

Although the City Council is expected to adopt the ordinance, many property owners oppose it. Some landlords told FOX 5 they have nothing against Section 8 tenants.  However, they criticize the Section 8 program, run by the Housing Commission, which they say is too cumbersome and takes away their choice.

“It feels like a mandate,” said Molly Kirkland from the San Diego Renters Association. “And the program is too cumbersome and has many delays and is time prohibitive. It can end up costing landlords.”

Implementation of the proposal would take two years. Year one would focus on voluntary compliance as well as landlord outreach and education of the potential benefits of renting to Section 8 users, including consistent on-time rent payments, long-term tenancies, flexible leases and background checks.

Year two would introduce investigation and enforcement services.

More than 15,000 low-income households receive Section 8 assistance through the San Diego Housing Commission. That breaks down to 36,478 individuals, 86 percent being people of color.

In June, the San Diego City Council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee advanced the ordinance to the council with no recommendation through a split 2-2 vote. Council members Georgette Gomez and David Alvarez supported the proposal, while council members Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf did not.