Council Passes Source of Income Legislation
On Monday the Full Council unanimously voted in support of an important new comprehensive tenants’ rights bill.
The legislation proposed by the Mayor was a Source of Income Discrimination protection bill enacting recommendations from the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda task force. The legislation that was passed Monday was a new piece of legislation that, not only created a new protected class for people with alternative sources of income, but also the following:
- Created a new “first in time” requirement in order to make the housing application process more objective as a tool to mitigate unconscious bias and by facilitating greater access to housing for people in need also ensure that city investments in addressing our affordable housing crisis and homeless crisis are more effective;
- Required that community pledges for rent assistance are accepted and honored even after a three day pay or vacate notice has been issued, as long as the funds are available in full and within 5 days of issuance of the pledge; and
- Banned “preferred employer” programs, or the sweet-heart deals for renters who are employed by certain employers.
The Council will be monitoring the impact of this legislation and will evaluate its success in 18 months. Below is my effort to answer some of the questions I have received on the 4 components of the bill.
- Protecting Tenants with Alternate Sources of Income
WHY? Seattle already prohibits discrimination against people who have a Section 8 voucher. Some have asked me why the City is creating a new protected class for people with alternative sources of income.
According to the Seattle’s Renting Crisis Report from the Washington Community Action Network, “48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.”
WHO WILL IT HELP? We’ve expanded discrimination protection to help renters who include social security, disability, unemployment insurance, child support, or other assistance as part of their income. These people may have a good rental history despite their low income. They should have an opportunity to secure a rental unit.
- First in Time Screening Process
WHY? The purpose of the first in time screening amendment is to prevent housing providers from not fairly considering applicants who are qualified applicants under the screening requirements, but are also members of a protected class. The Rental Housing Association and the Washington Multifamily Housing Association both say that First in Time screening practices are a best practice screening process. It is a best practice because it protects rental housing providers from a discrimination complaint by establishing an objective process for landlords to use when reviewing rental applications. In doing so, rental property owners are less likely to use explicit and implicit (unintentional) bias against applicants who are members of a protected class.
HOW DOES IT WORK? Prior to obtaining any information about a prospective tenant, Washington State law requires that the prospective landlord “first notify the prospective tenant in writing, or by posting, of the following: (i) What types of information will be accessed to conduct the tenant screening; (ii) What criteria may result in denial of the application; (iii) If a consumer report is used, the name and address of the consumer reporting agency and the prospective tenant’s rights to obtain a free copy of the consumer report in the event of a denial or other adverse action, and to dispute the accuracy of information appearing in the consumer report; and (iv) Whether or not the landlord will accept a comprehensive reusable tenant screening report made available to the landlord by a consumer reporting agency.” Then, under this new City law, they will add a date and time of receipt on all completed applications at the time each application was actually received. After reviewing all applications, the landlord is required to offer the unit to the person that meets the screening criteria and was first to submit their application materials based on the date and time stamp.
AREN’T OUR ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS SUPPOSED TO FIX THIS PROBLEM?
The research shows that even within jurisdictions with strong anti-discrimination laws, it is very important to find ways to address the role of implicit biases in order to reduce discrimination. In Seattle, despite our strong anti-discrimination in housing laws:
- In Section 8 voucher discrimination testing, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) found discrimination in 63% of the cases.
- In race-based discrimination testing, SOCR reported disparate treatment in 64% of cases.
- In national origin-based discrimination testing, SOCR reported disparate treatment in 67% of cases.
- In sexual orientation-based discrimination testing, SOCR reported disparate treatment in 63% of cases.
- In gender identity-based discrimination testing, SOCR reported disparate treatment in 67% of cases
That’s a lot of discrimination in Seattle. Many times, people don’t know that the decisions they are making are based in biases and thus discriminatory. What is exciting and potentially transformational about this work is:
- When we slow down our biases and act based on an assessment of the situation we end up making individual decisions that more accurately reflect our values.
- Over time, through practice, we can gradually unlearn the implicit associations that we have.
WHAT IF I WANT TO RENT TO A QUALIFIED PERSON WHO IS NOT THE FIRST QUALIFIED SCREENED APPLICANT? If one of the applicants is a member of a protected class the landlord may still offer the unit to that person, even if they were not the first qualified.
WHAT IF I RENT A UNIT IN THE HOME I LIVE IN? In that case, you are exempt from the new First in Time screening law just like you are exempt from the law banning discrimination in housing protecting protected classes in Seattle.
WHEN DOES THIS GO INTO EFFECT? This piece of the legislation will not take effect until January 1, 2017. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights will be developing the director’s rule and focusing efforts on education before any enforcement.
- Community Pledges and Short term vouchers
WHEN? This piece of the legislation will take effect 30 days following the Mayor’s signature.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? The City invests just over $1.9 million annually via 10 contracts with 9 agencies for services that provide short- and medium-term rental assistance and case management support to individuals and families at-risk of homelessness. Renters must be able to use these resources in order to successfully avert eviction and formerly homeless people must be able to use them in order to achieve stable housing.
- Preferred employer programs
WHEN DOES THIS GO INTO EFFECT? This piece of the legislation will take effect 30 days following the Mayor’s signature.
WHY? Preferred employer programs are no substitute for non-discriminatory move-in incentives. The Seattle of Office of Civil Rights recently concluded that some preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).
Join the community this Saturday, August 13 from 11am – 3pm at the Delridge Playfield. There are a lot of activities for the whole family at the annual Delridge Day Festival, from cultural events and live music, to a 12 and under skate competition (no entry fee) and field games.
Hope to see you there!
35th Avenue SW follow-up
Here’s some follow-up information about the August 4 meeting SDOT held re: 35th Avenue SW.
SDOT has posted a link to the materials available at the meeting. They’ve also indicated that all comments received at the meeting or otherwise will be posted on their 35th Avenue SW website (with names removed); over 100 comments were received at the meeting.
After following up with SDOT after the meeting, they let us know they would be doing the following work on the “Phase 1” Roxbury to Holly portion of the project completed last year:
- August/September 2016
- New crosswalk at 35th Ave SW and SW Kenyon Street
- October 2016
- Phase 1 before and after report, including public comments
- Fall 2016
- Signal timing adjustments
- 35th and Roxbury (weekday operations)
- 35th and Holden (weekday operations)
- Weekend signal timing adjustments for the entire 1.75 mile Phase 1 project area
- Evaluate 35th and Barton for left turn signals
- Signal timing adjustments
My office also requested a history of previous SDOT projects to convert 4-lane streets into 2 lanes; here’s a link that shows the 40 projects carried out between 1972-2015.
SW Spokane Street re-paving
SDOT has begun work on repaving lower SW Spokane Street between East Marginal Way and SW Klickitat.
Work will take place between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for what SDOT estimates will be three months.