Ferndale Joins Neighboring Cities in Banning Source of Income Discrimination

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.”

Background

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.

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