State bill would remove Iowa City ordinance preventing income-based housing discrimination

A bill outlawing local ordinances against housing discrimination based on public assistance was passed by the Iowa Senate and moves into the House.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Megan

An apartment building is seen in Iowa City on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

Ailis McCardle, News Reporter

A bill in the Iowa Legislature would remove a city ordinance that prevents landlords from denying housing to individuals and families using housing choice vouchers.

Senate File 252 passed through the Senate on party lines on Feb. 17 and was referred to a House committee on Tuesday. The bill would remove the 2016 Iowa City Source of Income ordinance, which protects families using housing choice vouchers.

Iowa City has registered in opposition to the bill, along with Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Waukee.

Housing choice vouchers provide rental assistance to families and individuals that meet federally mandated income restrictions, according to the Iowa City Housing Authority website. The Iowa City Housing Authority currently assists more than 1,200 low-income families to acquire and keep their housing.

According to national data collected from the Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit, non-partisan research and policy institute, 5.3 million Americans in 2.2 million households use federal housing vouchers to help afford their housing.

Iowa City’s Equity and Human Rights Coordinator Stephanie Bowers said the Source of Income ordinance explicitly prevents landlords from “advertising either directly or indirectly that persons who use rental subsidies are not welcome or not solicited, or rejecting an applicant based solely on the fact that they use a rental subsidy.”

Bowers said if the ordinance were removed, other characteristics such as race, gender, and country of origin would still be protected from discrimination under city code.

Bowers said the Source of Income ordinance is helpful – the number of complaints citing “Public Assistance/Source of Income” as a reason for discrimination dropped from six reported incidents in 2016 to two in 2017, with no complaints in 2018, one complaint in 2019, and one in 2020.

“Housing choice is implied in the name,” Bowers said. “It’s giving people housing opportunities and choices.”

Assistant to the City Manager Rachel Kilburg said the City of Iowa City has been working with contracted lobbyists Carney & Appleby to oppose the bill as it moves through the Iowa legislature.

Kilburg said the ordinance does not mandate that area landlords must accept tenants with housing choice vouchers, but that “they screen all rental applicants using the same process and standards, regardless of their source of income.”

Kilburg said the cost of lobbying against the bill is covered by annual membership and contract dues paid to lobbying and advocacy organizations by the City.

“Affordable housing opportunities and housing choice are major priorities for the City,” Kilburg said. “During periods of greater financial stress, such as the ongoing pandemic, use of rental vouchers can help ensure tenants maintain their housing and landlords receive rent payments on time.”

Several Iowa rental groups have supported the bill as it travels through the state Legislature, including the Greater Iowa Apartment Association.

Association Executive at the Greater Iowa Apartment Association Christy Steva wrote in a statement to The Daily Iowan that they support the bill as many of their members are part of this and other rental assistance programs.

“We believe housing providers should have a choice as to how their small businesses are run and the option not to accept federal payments that would be accompanied by additional complex requirements,” Steva wrote. “We support a landlord’s right to participate in this voluntary federal program, and not have de facto requirements forced upon them by city or county ordinance.”

Iowa City leasing agencies Apartments at Iowa and Westwinds Real Estate didn’t respond to requests for comment.