No 8s: Commissioners divided over outlawing voucher discrimination in Cook County

No 8s: Commissioners divided over outlawing voucher discrimination in Cook County

This week, we've been looking at a proposed ordinance in front of the Cook County board that would prevent suburban landlords from discriminating against subsidized housing voucher holders. We've talked to tenants who have faced such discrimination, landlords who say it'll create financial headaches for their business, and advocates who say it's necessary to help fight entrenched segregation.

Back in June, Commissioner Jesus Garcia predicted that his legislation to prevent landlords from discriminating against low-income tenants would become law within a few weeks.

But Garcia's prediction didn't come true, and the amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance doesn't look likely to pass anytime soon.

"The legislation barely made it out of committee with only two votes in favor, at this time there are not enough votes to pass the legislation," Celina Villanueva, outreach coordinator for Commissioner Garcia said Monday.

That's why the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, along with about 50 other groups in Cook County, started their online petition. So far it's gotten about 375 signatures.

"We wanted to show the commissioners that there's broad support for the legislation," said John Bartlett, director of Metropolitan Tenants Organization. "We've tried to pass it several times through Cook County, and there's been an attempt on the state to pass it as well. But the realtors always have a strong lobbying arm to prevent it."

The Illinois Realtors Association has criticized the amendment saying it would restrict landlords' freedom to participate in a government program.

"Our association members are very concerned over private property rights. It's what we deal with every day. It's our business. The program was always sort of traditionally set up to be a voluntary program. You have an option to either be in the Section 8 program, if you wanted not to be, or you're not in the Section 8 program," said Jon Broadbrooks, director of communications for the Illinois Realtors Association. "We're not against Section 8 tenants. We want to make sure the business practice is fair."

But Villanueva says the issue is about discrimination, not about property rights.

"In regards to the infringement of rights for landlords, they can continue to rent to whomever they want, depending on the criteria they set forth in their selection process," said Villanueva. "What they should not be able do is unlawfully discriminate against a potential tenant of any kind whether it be race, gender, familiar or source of income."

While landlords complain that the program subjects them to unfair rules and regulations that hurt their business, Villanueva said Cook County has improved the process to make it easier to participate.

"The Housing Authority of Cook County has streamlined the process and has made it more efficient and quicker. Improvements have been made to ensure the process doesn't take that long," said Villanueva. "From start to finish, meaning that from the point of attending an orientation session to the renting of a unit to a voucher holder, the current process has been funneled down to a matter of weeks."

When the amendment came in front of the Human Relations Committee this July, two commissioners -- Robert Steele and Larry Suffredin -- voted for the amendment, while Commissioner Pete Silvestri voted against. Two others, Deborah Sims and John Fritchey, voted "present," meaning they were at the hearing, but did not vote for or against it. The remaining commissioners on the committee, Earlean Collins and Edwin Reyes, were absent.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle favors the amendment, said spokesman Owen Kilmer, but that it is on hold until after the County has tackled the budget issue.

"President Preckwinkle strongly supports the ordinance, and following the passage of the budget, will work with Commissioner Garcia and issue stakeholders on the issue to resolve any differences and pass it," said Kilmer.

Now that you've heard all the sides of this issue, tell us what you think. Should Cook County outlaw source of income discrimination and force landlords to take voucher tenants? Or should landlords be allowed to choose who they rent to and what government programs they participate in? Leave us a comment here on the blog.

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  • It's a hard call. And because it is, we should proceed cautiously. We know that if an area is inundated with Section 8 renters, it can have a very consequential impact on that community, with rises in crime and gang activity. That said, Section 8 rentals have proven pivotal in helping impoverished people change their lives for the better.

    What I would want to see is to have Section 8 recipients better monitored and given access to developing the kind of skills that would engender moving off of Section 8 and on to being more beneficial members of society. Also, if the community is suffering, as seen by higher crime rates and quantitative gang activity, that section 8 be pulled back to help balance that community.

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