Rep. Williams and Sen. Kallman’s legislation prohibiting housing discrimination passes the General Assembly

 

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Anastasia P. Williams and Sen. Meghan E. Kallman’s legislation to prohibit housing discrimination against those who receive government assistance to pay their rent passed the General Assembly tonight.

The legislation (2021-H 5257 / 2021-S 0561) adds “lawful source of income” to the list of statuses — such as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and marital status —  that landlords may not use as a basis for their decisions about to whom they will rent, or which units they will rent to them. The bill would not apply to owner-occupied dwellings of three units or less.

“This legislation is not only simple, but it is the right and moral thing to do because people who are down on their luck and need help to find a place to live should not be discriminated against when trying to find housing.  This problem has been further amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that has resulted from this health crisis, forcing more of our residents to rely on the government assistance that too many landlords deem unacceptable payment.  This was a problem before COVID-19 and now, it is an even bigger problem that must be addressed,” said Representative Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence).

“With this legislation, Rhode Island is finally recognizing that refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers is discrimination, a pretext for keeping certain people out of certain areas. At this time, when our state is struggling with a housing crisis made worse by the pandemic, I am pleased that we are finally ending this practice. Income discrimination is unjust; it is a roadblock that hurts families, contributes to housing insecurity, and perpetuates poverty. Ensuring that voucher recipients can rent any apartment they can afford will allow more people to rent safe housing and contribute to the stability that all families need and deserve,” said Senator Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence).

The bill defines “lawful sources of income” as income or other assistance derived from Social Security; Supplemental Security Income; any other federal, state or local general public assistance, including medical or veterans assistance; any federal, state or local housing assistance, including Section 8 Housing; child support or alimony.

In addition to protecting tenants from being refused housing based on their income, the bill protects them from other unlawful housing practices, including segregation.

The bill includes language that would still allow landlords to ask whether a prospective tenants is at least 18 years old, and allow them to check a prospective tenant’s income, its source and its expected duration only for the purpose of confirming the renter’s ability to pay rent.

The legislation is part of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) seven-bill legislative package on housing in Rhode Island.

“These are good people who simply want to live and contribute to our society and for them to be denied housing because they receive financial help from the government is a gross injustice and should not be encouraged and condoned.  After introducing this legislation for many years, I am grateful that it has finally passed and that it will provide the support that too many of our residents desperately need to find appropriate housing for themselves and their families,” concluded Representative Williams.

The bill now heads to the desk of Governor McKee for consideration.

 

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