Today Pittsburgh City Council held a public hearing and post agenda meeting on a piece of legislation that would add "source of income" as a protected class against housing discrimination.
"I think everyone should have housing choices. It always interests me that we say we want things to be fair for everyone, but we don’t want to do our fair share to make it inclusive," said Councilor Ricky Burgess, who sponsored the legislation. "Every time we try to change something to make it more livable, there are often cries from a minority that we do not want to sacrifice to make the city most livable for everyone."
The legislation would impact those who receive housing assistance vouchers. Many of today's speakers said landlords deny tenants who use housing vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8 vouchers, as a way to exclude minorities.
"Businesses don’t want regulation, and people and poor people need protection from bad businesses practices," said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United. "The vast number of [postings that say 'No Section 8'] on Craigslist points out the problem."
But other speakers, including James Eichenlaub from the Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh who opposes the legislation, said the housing choice voucher program has a lot of barriers for landlords that keep them from wanting to participate in the program. He said these barriers include lengthy wait times during the application process.
While Richard Morris, director of housing for the Urban League agreed that the housing voucher system could be improved, he also said many of the hurdles associated with housing vouchers are necessary.
"Landlords claim the process is cumbersome, but I’ve found that if you go to the housing authority to raise your concerns they will listen," Morris said. "The rules that they say are so cumbersome are rules that you would want for anyone living in a home."
Another speaker, Paul O' Hanlon, a member of the City-County Task Force on Disabilities, cautioned the public not to think of this legislation in terms of housing choice vouchers alone. He said it would also benefit those with disabilities and others who receive housing assistance.
"I think it’s critically important that we have a protection for source of income," O'Hanlon said. "We have to remember that it’s not just Section 8 vouchers."