Dismantling systemic racism must include addressing the denial of rentals to voucher holders. The seemingly neutral policy of refusing to accept Housing Choice Vouchers (commonly known as Section 8), often disproportionately affects minorities. In Craigslist rental listings for Springfield and surrounding communities, the descriptions offering rentals repeatedly include: “No Section 8.” This appears for apartment complexes and single-family homes listed from June 4 to June 19, 2020. One listing emphasized this automatic rejection by putting it in the title: “NO Section 8.”
While source of income is not a protected class under the Federal Fair Housing Act or the Fair Housing laws of Illinois, it is protected for voucher holders renting in Chicago, Cook County, Harwood Heights, Naperville, and Urbana. Wheeling’s Code of Ordinances protect source of income, but they do not cover housing voucher holders.
The 2019 U.S. Census Bureau placed the population of Springfield and Sangamon County as 194,672, with close to 13%, or 25,300, identified as Black or African American. Research by Housing Action Illinois showed 31% of these individuals live in poverty. If these 7,800 people try to rent using a Section 8 voucher, with its guaranteed monthly rental payments, and are denied, this possibly indicates that the neutral policy of a blanket denial has a discriminatory disparate impact on Black and African American individuals.
Housing Action Illinois’ report also showed that 59% of Illinois’ Black population as homeless, and 8 times more likely to experience homelessness than White people. In Springfield and Sangamon County, the percentage is 52%, or more than 13,000 people.
Why are these individuals living in poverty and homeless? Because Black households earn only 42 cents for every dollar that White households earn living in the Springfield metro area, according to the same report by Housing Action Illinois. What you earn affects what you can afford to rent, which in turn affects educational choices and opportunities, and what kind of job can be obtained. This trickles down and continues in the families stuck in this loop. This is a very simplified description of the vicious cycle living in systemic racism.
Housing providers list varying reasons for refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers. My research shows most of those reasons are based on stereotypes – an active and still breathing erroneous microcosm that equates being poor as “lazy” and “irresponsible.” Other arguments include the difficulty in working with public housing authorities and navigating the red tape required for program inclusion. Some housing providers cite the requirement of passing inspections. I do not understand this argument, because every home should be livable, and these standards are not arduous. The rentals I have observed in Lincoln, Nebraska, often have ceilings and walls with holes, open and exposed electrical circuitry, broken or badly leaking plumbing, mold, and below standard heating and cooling systems. These are the housing providers who purchase and rent apartments solely to make money. Apartments are cobbled together to pass inspections.
That description is not a blanket statement covering all Section 8 housing providers. However, another sad fact is that well-cared for Section 8 properties are hard to come by. According to the Springfield Housing Authority, for 2020 it had 2,148 Section 8 vouchers and a waiting list. With more than 7,800 living in poverty, that leaves too many with no chance to find decent and affordable housing. The ability to deny rentals based on source of income must be eliminated to open more rental options and a better life for those who simply want a safe place to call home.
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Margie Nichols has worked as a Civil Rights Investigator for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, Human Rights Commission for more than 12 years in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation. In addition to investigating allegations of discrimination, Margie specializes in the Fair Housing Act, and provides outreach and training to housing providers, property management companies, and realtors. With a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, Margie is one class away from obtaining her Master of Arts in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois at Springfield.