Written by Carissa Daniels, Firesteel Advocacy Intern and Seattle University Communications Student
For the last 15 years, my daughter and I have lived on my disability stipend, with help from a housing choice (aka Section 8) voucher, a federal program that subsidizes rent. This is a vital program for us because I am disabled, and my daughter also has significant health problems that make it hard for her to find employment.
Our situation is even more complicated because I am a survivor of domestic violence; ongoing safety issues mean we have to move periodically. For the average person, moving means maybe saving up for a few months, and passing income and security checks. The process is different when you are surviving with Section 8 help for rent.
First, the cost of our prospective rental home has to fall within certain guidelines. Second, the potential landlord must agree to accept Section 8, or it is a no go. The truth is that many landlords use the Section 8 as a reason to deny an otherwise qualified individual. This can–and does–literally leave people out in the cold.
Finding affordable rent is a challenge all by itself. After a person gives the required notice to the housing authority that they intend to move, it can take months before they find another place. Participants get three months to find a place before they lose their housing voucher, which means paying full rent or becoming homeless.
When we were looking for housing, time and time again, we would qualify for the amount of rent our voucher would pay, but the landlord said he didn’t accept Section 8. Occasionally “No Section 8” would even be in the online post. We were often denied before we even did any paperwork, and in many cases, sight unseen. This happened more times than not, leaving us with extremely limited options of where we could go.
There is a strong prejudice against anyone low income, and some landlords seem to think that low income and participating in Section 8 means drug or alcohol addicted, unmotivated, troublemakers, and a lot of other undesirable things. The attitude is one of “don’t try to convince me with the facts, because my mind is already made up.”
Finding an affordable home using a Section 8 voucher is challenging at the best of times. When landlords are allowed to discriminate on the basis of Section 8 or other subsidy, it is nearly impossible.
I shared my story on KIRO 7 earlier this week, and I am preparing to travel to Olympia and speak to legislators about a bill that would protect renters across the state from discrimination on the basis of source of income. This legislation is critical for those of us who do not have a stable enough source of income to be able to afford full rent all of the time. Being discriminated against because you are poor is not acceptable. This is a social justice issue. State legislators need to see that by taking action, they can reduce homelessness and enable people to access safe and affordable housing.
As a survivor of both domestic violence and homelessness, and as an intern with Firesteel, I can tell you that this legislation will literally open doors across the state, for those who need it most. I am excited to be a voice for change, speaking up to make a difference for ALL of us.
Join Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day on Feb. 2 to tell lawmakers why the state should outlaw discrimination against tenants based on their source of income. And send a message to your legislators now using this form: