Metro Louisville

“No Section 8 accepted.”

Under Louisville’s fair housing law, expanded by Metro Council last week, landlords will no longer be able to deny housing to someone receiving Section 8 support, or other legal forms of assistance.

In an action that had broad support, Council added legal sources of income, including housing vouchers, to the list of characteristics landlords cannot use to reject potential renters. They also added homeless and veteran status, as well as arrest history and some criminal convictions, excluding violent and sexual crimes.

The effort, spearheaded by Jessica Green (D-1), garnered the support of 24 council members. The two who did not vote for the measure said they had questions about burdening landlords, and that they were or had been landlords themselves. Marilyn Parker (R-18) voted present and Stuart Benson (R-20) abstained.

“Housing is a basic human right, like the right to air, to water, to food, you cannot live without housing,” Green said last Thursday, minutes before the council voted.

Some hope the expansion will help those who were already part of existing protected classes, which include race and gender. For example, female-headed households and Black households are over-represented in those using housing assistance programs compared to what they represent in the general population, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Among them is George Eklund, the education advocacy director at the Coalition for the Homeless. He said, intentionally or otherwise, some landlords see “Section 8” and conjure up stereotypes that discourage them from renting to people using such assistance.

“This removes that ability for landlords to just say, ‘No, I don’t want to. I don’t want to deal with this,’” Eklund said.

The ordinance goes into effect immediately, but the regulations related to “Lawful Source of Income,” which includes housing assistance and alimony, is delayed until March 1, 2021. Eklund said that was put in so that landlords and property owners have time to get in compliance.

Many of the protected classes in Louisville intersect. Black families use housing vouchers. Veterans experience homelessness. Eklund said that’s why it’s important to update and add to the protected groups.

“Eliminating bias is almost a moving target, where we’re always looking for, ‘Okay, how can we stay ahead of the curve on how people are using the structures that we build the systems that we build to exclude people from opportunities?’” he said.

In Louisville and other American cities, racist housing policies such as redlining limited and even denied homeownership for Black families. And Eklund said those historical policies have cascading effects that are felt today.

For example, landlords in west and south Louisville are more likely to accept housing vouchers. Those are areas with lower median incomes and higher-than-average Black populations. Being limited to those neighborhoods makes it hard for renters on assistance who may work in other parts of town, especially if they have to rely on bus service to get to work.

Eklund called the expanded fair housing ordinance a starting point for the city. He said Louisville also needs to build more affordable housing, reevaluate zoning laws and fully fund its Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.