Housing Complex

D.C. Landlords Discriminate a Lot Less Than They Used To

Think it's hard to find housing in the District? Try doing it on a Section 8 voucher.

The approximately 11,000 low-income D.C. residents on housing choice vouchers, which cover their rent beyond the 30 percent of their income that they pay, face persistent discrimination from landlords and property managers. According to a study released yesterday by the Equal Rights Center, 28 percent of voucher holders faced were subject to discrimination in their housing search.

And that's something to celebrate.

The ERC conducted similar studies in 2005 and 2010. The 2005 study found that 61 percent of voucher holders faced discrimination, defined as "outright refusal to accept vouchers, limiting the use of the voucher, imposing different terms or conditions for voucher holders, or imposing limitations that would effectively bar voucher holders from obtaining the housing." The 2010 study reported a drop to 45 percent. The latest investigation was conducted between July 2011 and January 2013 and had trained ERC testers call 90 properties pretending to be voucher holders.

Discrimination was highest in Northeast at 36 percent, though it's just marginally higher than in Northwest and Southeast. All four housing providers in Southwest accepted the vouchers.

So what's the reason for the decline? According to ERC Executive Director Don Kahl, it's ERC's "focused education and outreach," including collaboration with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and work with voucher holders and landlords. ERC, he says, worked with "scores, if not into the hundreds" of landlords. Kahl says ERC was also sometimes forced to take enforcement action against landlords, through complaints with the Office of Human Rights and lawsuits.

But there's likely a second factor here: the recession. The study was conducted in 2011 and 2012, a time when high unemployment and a volatile economy meant that market renters weren't so reliable. So landlords may have realized that a monthly payment from the federal government for voucher tenants wasn't such a bad deal.

"I’ve never really tried to put myself in the mind of a landlord or a management company, but we’ve always thought there were definite advantages to landlords participating in the housing choice voucher payment for the very reason you mentioned," Kahl says. "Our anecdotal information has always been that housing choice voucher tenants tend to be very stable tenants. They stay longer than people who may hop from apartment to apartment."

  • Mrs. D

    Well, I've never had a tenant request to use section 8, but the annual required and intermittent check-up inspections are a huge impediment to smaller landlords. I'm sure my unit would pass, but I'm also sure that I don't want to have to delay execution of a lease for the inspection and take additional time to host the inspections. Or to have something found wrong in the building and have to deal with the HOA. Plus have my lease & rent reviewed & subject to HUD's additional terms. An extra layer of bureaucracy is not really worth the small amount of money I make off the unit.

  • CodyCH

    And let's face it - landlords don't want to rent to Section 8 folks because they have higher incidents of trashing apartments. Sure, it's not 100% the case, and other renters can trash a place (students). But trying to pretend this isn't an issue is just denial...

  • Vet.

    One reason, a lot of section 8 folks don't take care of the property, they think all thou its there home, they don't own it, they could care less about the up keep. I have friend who own a couple of buildings, which have turned in to a money pit when he rent several apartments to section-8, he constantly have to repair items not as a result of wear and tear but deliberate tenant damages . When some don't want to pay their part of the rent and he start eviction procedures which takes forever in DC, they break things then complain to the Housing Authority/DCRA who cite and or fine him for not making timely repairs or failure to maintain building up to code, he makes repairs yet again and again evictions prevented by the Court due to the complaint, he constantly experience high turn over of his regular paying tenants due to the actions of the section-8 tenants.DC need to change and or shorten their eviction procedures and instill in its section-8 folks that failure to maintain the property other than normal wear and tear should be a basics for eviction, until this is done a lot of secton-8 folks who have no problems maintaining the owners property must suffer for the many knuckle heads.

  • oboe

    Why just focus on DC? How are the MD and VA suburbs doing?

  • anons

    Against my better judgement my liberal sensitivities got the better of me 14 years ago and I decided to try to rent to Section 8. The inspections weren't onerous, but the renters were. It was a two bedroom apartment with a mother (with two kids) on the lease. Before the end of the first week, she had her brother, her mother and the boyfriend of the week living there. I tried to talk to her rationally but she would slam the door in my face, hang up on me etc. The "good" folks at Section 8 couldn't be bothered. As far as they saw it, they had "placed" someone and it wasn't their problem.

    DC being the ridiculously over the top one sided tenant laws, I couldn't evict them before the end of the year lease. I got a host of reasons, (its winter, they haven't been there long enough, you don't have proof"). Eventually the judge straight out told me the chances of me getting any section 8 tenant evicted for any reason was nill.

    So they stayed until the end of the lease. The place had been destroyed. Lighting and plumbing fixtures damn near pulled out of walls, cabinents, appliances, the walls look like a baseball bat had been taken to them. I had to spend nearly 6K to fix the place.

    A couple years goes by and my wife convinces me to do it again, that we had a bad apple. While the woman who moved in was less violent and "ghetto", she still completely destroyed the place when she left forcing me to spend another 3K.

    Never again. I would rather rent to the quasi respectiful yuppies who pay top dollar. Biggest complaint I've had so far with them is playing Theivery Corporation a little too loud.

  • Calvin H. Gurley

    “…TRUST… BUT Verify…” - R. Reagan.

    Don't trust Equal Rights Center [ERC] until you verify with Mr. James McGrath @ TENAC. Monthly meeting at Sumner School. (202) 628-3688.

    Mr. Aaron Weiner did a poor job in reporting...he refused to check his information from ERC with the D.C. Office of Tenant Advocate.

    Declaring a reduction when it comes to housing discrimination - we CAN NOT RELY UPON "ONE" SOURCE.

    Therefore, Mr. Weiner's article and the ERC's figures are suspect. Perhaps, his next news article will have full disclosure on the subject of Vouchers/Section 8.

    Wake up Trusting Citizens.

    Calvin H. Gurley

  • Mrs. D

    I'll admit that it's partially these horror stories. Again, I've never turned away someone because I've never been asked (chances are my rent wouldn't pass muster, but the number of applications I get when it's available say it's reasonably priced), but my lease has very specific details of who and what will live there, and I expect those to be respected. I've always been able to have a reasonable conversation with my tenants when something isn't up-to-snuff. Like when I went over to fix something, and my tenant was sitting her sister's dog. I flat-out told her the lease was clear that only HER dog was allowed, and while I was okay with it because the dog seemed well-behaved and trained, she needed to ask about these things. At the end of the day, those are my floors and walls doors and everything else, and I have to fix them if they're damaged by she or her guests or their pets tearing them up. She always has since then...she's responsible with the unit and her dog, and it seems her family is the same with their behavior and their pets, so, as long as I know about it, I'll be reasonable. Two-way street and all (I'm not going to be unreasonable so long as the rules are followed). But it does seem that the LENGTHY HUD addendum precludes reasonably enforcing a lot of stuff, or even reasonable accommodation of how long it might take me to fix something. Like, hey, the TP holder fell off the wall, and took a screw with it. Happens, but that means I need to remove the rest of it and the anchors, spackle it, {wait 24 hours}, then come back and sand and paint {wait 24 hours}, then come back and install the new one. No biggie if you don't have an agency telling you you're doing it wrong (no, I'm doing it RIGHT because I want the wall to be smooth and well-painted, rather than slap-dash fixed so that the paint will peel off at a sneeze...I fix it like I'd fix MY house).

  • Typical DC BS

    Subsidizing fools and losers just makes it that much harder to help the truly deserving. DC courts and government are clueless. Same thing with this whole rent control garbage. DC is just plain hostile to the good citizens when they bend over backwards for the morons and troublemakers.

  • DC Native

    I have lived in NE for 10 years and witnessed the local Section 8 tenants ruin 5 of our wonderful houses. All 5 Section 8 houses on my block had about 10 people living in them, at least 5 kids, a pregnant mother (figure) who was completely absentee except for greeting her boyfriend of-the-week at the door, and kids that ran wild around our neighborhood. Each house became a mecca of hang out folks who would smoke weed, scream and yell curse words and the n-word all day, and would say lewd things to all the females that passed. It was the worst reinforcement of every stereotype. I actually walked one of them b/c the door was wide open one day and it was clear that the tenants had abandoned it. It was a disaster zone unfit for human life, and the people had created that existence, b/c it was a very nice house when they occupied it. All 5 of the section 8 houses have now flipped to working, normal, professionals and the difference is night and day. They keep the front yard nice, nobody hangs out in front, they are quiet, they have furnished the whole house beautifully, and they all say hello to the neighbors and are respectful. It is impossible to deny the obvious. The government is simply subsidizing bad behavior.

  • DC Resident

    I am currently a voucher holder and I don't appreciate the stereotypes that go along with being on section 8. I got my voucher because I was in Foster care from the age of 5-18. I'm 26 now with 2 children and a fiance, he is working and im just finishing school and in the process of starting my career. We just need help right now and I cant have my children living on the streets. There are some people who are trying to be better and work for theirs, whose situation is just temporary, but sadly there are others who will rather lay around and do nothing as long as their rent is being paid and those are the ones who messes their homes up, move everyone in and give everyone else a bad name.