Those using Section 8 housing vouchers should have an easier time finding a place to live in Iowa City soon.
Iowa City landlords will most likely lose the ability to reject potential tenants solely because they have a Housing Choice Voucher, which helps low-income individuals pay for housing.
The Iowa City City Council unanimously approved the first of three considerations for an amendment to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance. The amendment would make it unlawful for landlords to refuse rent to citizens with low-income assistance.
City Councilor Kingsley Botchway said this issue really came to his attention when he was trying to sublease his apartment.
“I was moving into a new home, and the renter wouldn’t take Section 8 from a family attempting to live in my apartment,” he said. “They were a really good family, and it just didn’t make sense to me they couldn’t find a place to live in Iowa City.”
Steve Rackis, the Iowa City housing administrator, said the amendment wouldn’t guarantee those using the vouchers would be approved.
“The only thing it changes for people with a voucher is that landlords have to screen them just like anyone else,” he said.
Stefanie Bowers, equity director for Iowa City, said the Housing Choice Voucher program was created to assist people who are low-income, elderly, or have disabilities find better quality places to call home.
“A person should be able to live where they want in a neighborhood they want and one in which they can afford,” she said. “To refuse to rent to a person because they’ll use a rental subsidy is not a practice that supports the values of this community. It’s contrary to our commitment to fair housing.”
RELATED: GPSG seeks grad-housing solution
Bowers said that if the amendment is adopted, it will go into effect starting on June 1 and allow outreach by staff from the Human Rights Office and the Neighborhood and Development Services Department.
She said groups targeted for outreach would include landlords, landlord associations, and participants in the Housing Choice Voucher program.
Starting June 1, people claiming to be treated unfairly or with discrimination would be able to file a complaint with the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and it would be in charge of investigating the complaint, Bowers said.
Chris Villhauer, president of the Greater Iowa City Apartment Association, said most members within the association already participate in the Housing Choice Program.
“The Greater Iowa City Apartment Association has reached out to work with the city of Iowa City and any other group or organization the City Council feels would be beneficial in working towards the housing goals of the City of Iowa City,” he said.
Botchway said affordable housing is an important issue in the community and providing it to those who need it is a goal the City Council is working to achieve.