Illinois lawmakers could add new human rights protections for affordable housing applicants
QUINCY (WGEM) - A proposal in Springfield could add fair housing protections to the state’s Human Rights Act.
Illinois Senate Democrats say this could stop discrimination against people trying to get affordable housing based on their legal source of income.
This change could apply to veterans paying for housing with veterans benefits or other housing vouchers. Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) said it would also benefit single mothers paying to house their families with child support or alimony payments.
Villivalam explained seniors or people with disabilities could receive the same protections since many use social security payments to pay their rent.
Nineteen other states, Cook County, and Chicago have this protection in place. However, Senate Republicans feel this will create another mandate.
“Realtors are especially sensitive because a violation of the Human Rights Act brings with it the mandatory suspension or revocation of a person’s real estate license, thus halting their source of income,” said Sen. Don DeWitte (R-St. Charles).
Villivalam strongly urged this would not be a mandate for landlords. Instead, he said this change would ensure that no one could be restricted from housing based on their source of income.
Advocates say denials based on the source of income are a crushing defeat and make people feel worthless. Sharon Norwood told senators that she has been a renter, housing choice voucher holder, and now a new homeowner. Although, her ability to get a house came after a long battle and many hard decisions.
“Having a housing choice voucher allowed me to afford my rent in a neighborhood that my family needed, most importantly schools with strong programs for my children with disabilities,” Norwood said. “By not having the weight of making unaffordable rent payments on my shoulders, I was able to focus on supporting my children, caring for other family members, and investing in my own professional development.”
Even though Norwood was constantly an exceptional tenant, she had the door closed when she mentioned having a housing voucher. Villivalam said this change could help nearly 2.7 million families struggling with this issue.
Paul Arena with the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association said his organization is not opposed to the source of income portion of the bill. Arena said they are opposed to a mandate that property owners have to sign a non-negotiable contract with the housing authority. He argued that is effectively what the current section 8 housing program is.
“This contract overrides the landlord’s lease. This contract could be changed at any time,” Arena said. “So, effectively the landlord loses control of their property. This program is designed to be voluntary. So the decisions that are made in terms of what’s in this contract are made by the federal government with that in mind, that people have the choice whether or not they want to participate.”
Arena asked Villivalam and other sponsors to include a statement within the definition of source of income clarifying owners cannot be required to enter into a third-party contract. Although, Housing Action Illinois and other key advocacy groups feel that would undermine the intent of the bill.
“This legislation has been introduced for several years now and there have been robust discussions,” Villivalam said. “We took significant portions of the legislation out through this amendment to address concerns from the realtors and the bankers. With due respect, I would say the people who are most impacted by this are the people who are renting, the people who are housing insecure.”
The Illinois Department of Human Rights would be responsible for overseeing this change.
House Bill 2775 passed out of the Senate Executive Committee on a partisan 11-6 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. If passed there, the bill must go back to the House for concurrence.
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