Iowa City is on the verge of losing local sovereignty yet again.
Two weeks ago, the Iowa Senate legislative session moved through the winnowing process to weed out several proposed bills. Many concern social programs that are now going to be debated on the Senate floor.
One of these bills, Senate File 2347, proposes that it is within property owners’ rights to refuse rental applications from Iowans who rely on U.S. federal housing vouchers. If the bill passed, Iowa City would be prohibited from requiring landlords to accept these vouchers.
Landlords would have agency to decide whether or not to reject a rental application from someone who relies on federal financial assistance and the city government cannot do anything to stop them.
The Daily Iowan Editorial Board sees the prioritization of property rights over potential homelessness as ethically wrong, and an unnecessary decision by state legislation. Discrimination based on income is unacceptable.
Iowans should not be ashamed to depend on a federal-government program designed to keep vulnerable communities from being homeless. These communities include low-income families, veterans, as well as elderly and disabled residents who are unable to afford housing without federal assistance.
Even if the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn’t recognize this, Iowa City does. The proposed bill would invalidate current ordinances set by the city council to block this discrimination.
The Housing Choice Vouchers Program, also known Section 8 housing, has long been a government service to help Americans live in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. This is all through authorized payment of rental-housing assistance by the federal government.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in the state of Iowa alone, over 43,000 individuals rely on this program, with 75 percent being either seniors, minors, or those with disabilities.
As rental costs steadily rise in Iowa, it should not be questioned that families and those are eligible for federal assistance need the housing program. Many of these communities still suffer from food insecurity, or are unable to pay expenses such as medical bills because all of their federal assistance goes toward paying rent.
It’s the rights of these individuals, not of landlords, that are being challenged.
Property owners are presented with no kind of financial or foreseeable disadvantage in accepting tenants who are assisted by the program. The voucher pays the rent. This source of income is still income that is used to pay rent fully and on time.
To be clear, the program does not absolve residents of their responsibilities as tenants; it only aids in financial assistance. Landlords are still able to evict tenants who break their lease agreement, or cause damage or disturbance to their property.
However, there is no official public data to argue that low-income tenants are more destructive of property, or nonagreeable to lease terms compared to tenants who do not need federal assistance. The assumption that these citizens are somehow a nuisance is biased and unsubstantiated.
For a property owner to then reject a rental application simply because the applicant is poor or disadvantaged, that is a dangerous agency of socioeconomic prejudice. This bill would encourage profiling of low-income families and risk individuals facing homelessness.
Iowa legislators should prioritize poverty prevention instead of making it more difficult for Iowans to seek housing for their families.
All Americans should have access to stable, affordable housing. This idea is not novel — Section 8 was passed in 1937.
There is no necessary cause for the Iowa Legislature to make it legal for property owners to discriminate against their tenants’ socioeconomic background.
If the federal government can support its citizens, so should the state government by protecting those dependent on this voucher program.
Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the Publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.
Editorial board members are Marissa Payne, Brooklyn Draisey, Elijah Helton, Becca Bright, and Jason O’Day.