Ferndale Joins Neighboring Cities in Banning Source of Income Discrimination
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 11, 2021)
Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hazel Park, MI – In an increasing number of communities, landlords can no longer legally refuse to rent to someone because of how they pay their rent, including veteran’s benefits, court ordered payments, and voucher programs.
Ferndale City Council voted Monday to approve a Source of Income Discrimination ordinance which would allow the city to levee a fine on landlords who refuse to rent to people based on their income type, or who advertise exclusion (such as “no Section 8.”). Repeat offenders could be subject to a misdemeanor charge. Per the ordinance:
“A violation of any provision of this Article is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $500.00, plus all costs of the action. The court may issue and enforce any judgment, writ, or order necessary to enforce this Article. Any third, or subsequent offense beyond three, within one calendar year shall be considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine in an amount not to exceed $500.00 or imprisonment for a term not to exceed 90 days, or both. Each day on which a violation of this Article shall continue 4 shall constitute a separate offense and may be punishable as a separate offense. The court may issue and enforce any judgment, writ, or order necessary to enforce this Article.”
The ordinance lists examples of source of income, “including but not limited to (a) money derived from any lawful profession or occupation; (b) money derived from any lawful contract, agreement, loan, or settlement; from any court order, such as court-ordered child support or alimony; from any gift or bequest; or from any annuity or life insurance policy; and (c) money derived from any benefit or subsidy program, including, but not limited to, any housing assistance programs, or any other form of housing assistance payment or credit whether or not paid or attributed directly to a landlord; public assistance; emergency rental assistance; veterans benefit; Social Security or other retirement program; supplemental security income; VA and FHA loans, and any other program administered by any federal, state, or local agency or nonprofit entity.”
There are exceptions, including “the person owning the dwelling does not own or have any interest in more than three dwellings within the City,” and “Rooms or units in a dwelling containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than four families living independently of each other, if the person owning the dwelling actually maintains and occupies one of such living quarters as his or her residence.”
County Commissioner Charlie Cavell brought the suggestion to City Council, as he has in the other cities he represents. Cavell is part of an effort by Democratic County Commissioners to encourage local bans across the county. The push was announced at an April 20 press conference held at the Ferndale Housing Commission which featured Commissioners from Royal Oak, Pontiac, and Southfield as well as housing professionals.
Cities that have already passed similar ordinances include Hazel Park, Royal Oak, Ann Arbor, Lansing, East Lansing, and Holland. Cavell said resolutions are under consideration in Berkley, Oak Park, Madison Heights and Troy.
Ferndale Councilperson Kat Bruner James serves on the Ordinance Committee who reviewed and considered the ordinance before recommending it be adopted by Council.
“We were pleased to move this ordinance forward, as recommended by County Commissioner Cavell, to provide equitable access to housing to those who rely on subsidized vouchers — low income families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities,” Bruner James said. “I’ve personally known many people who have been able to obtain housing vouchers only to be turned away by landlords on the basis of their source of income.”
Cavell is excited about the progress. “So far we have been receiving warm receptions from the communities we’ve talked with! Our plan has been to connect with communities who would likely quickly appreciate and align with these sorts of protections and then use them as validators for communities who may be more skeptical,” he said.
Talking with landlords and housing experts has been educational for the Commissioner. “This entire effort has shown me what little I as a renter knew about my rights,” he said. “Also, through this process we learned how many landlords are just trying to make it and aren’t aware of the benefits available to them through vouchers. In short, lots of us may have opinions about fair housing but most of us aren’t aware of what it can actually mean for our communities!”
Among those benefits for the landlord is the fact that vouchers are a stable source of income. During the pandemic, landlords with residents paying with vouchers did not have to worry about their payments coming in.
“What we are doing here is ending a type of discrimination that hurts the vulnerable and voiceless,” Commissioner Cavell said. “I have felt what it is like to be powerless and unheard. It is a feeling I want all of us to avoid! But, as long as there are forms of discrimination in this country we are not fully living out our values and people will continue to feel powerless. This is important to the district because it erases one of the many remaining types of discrimination that leaves people unheard.”
For the full text of the ordinance, visit the City of Ferndale website.