Stop Keeping Tenants Out in the Cold Because of the Source of Their Income

Source of income discrimination disproportionately affects people of color, women, and people with disabilities.

All people have the right to a safe and stable home, which provides a foundation to build better futures for themselves and their families. Indeed, stable housing helps ensure that people live healthy lives, that children thrive in school, and that families have access to economic opportunity. Yet many families have difficulty obtaining housing simply because of the source of their income.

Over half of Illinois households earn some sort of non-wage income, in other words income that comes from a source other than a job. In some instances, this income is specifically designated to help pay for housing.

Housing Choice Vouchers help ensure that low-income families are able to pay rent. Emergency Housing Vouchers enable abuse survivors to flee domestic violence and human trafficking. Emergency Rental Assistance helps those facing pandemic-related hardships to avoid evictions. Aside from these housing-specific forms of assistance, many Illinoisans rely on other types of non-wage income, such as veterans’ benefits, retirement income, child support, alimony, pension payments, unemployment insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Yet, in Illinois, outside of a handful of cities and counties, there is no protection against source of income discrimination. That means landlords can deny a tenant housing simply because the tenant seeks to pay rent through non-wage sources of income. A landlord may even refuse pandemic-related rental assistance which would allow the household to avoid eviction by paying the landlord in full.

Without protections in place, rental applicants with non-wage income are often widely excluded from housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that, without laws prohibiting source of income discrimination, landlords overwhelmingly refuse to rent to families with Housing Choice Vouchers. Military veterans with disabilities, who are specifically eligible for certain types of vouchers, report being turned away from housing simply because they are voucher holders. As one veteran said, “I was good enough to serve my country, but not good enough to live in your neighborhood.”

Source of income discrimination disproportionately affects people of color, women, and people with disabilities. Because a disproportionate number of Housing Choice Voucher recipients in Illinois are BIPOC, it is impossible to truly fight housing discrimination and segregation while source of income discrimination is allowed to proliferate.

Families with children are also especially likely to hold housing vouchers. Before obtaining a voucher, families can often sit on waitlists for years. Once they receive a voucher, they have a short time to ‘use it or lose it.’ Many families lose their voucher because they cannot find a housing provider who rents to voucher holders.

Tenants who are willing and able to pay rent should not be kept out of housing. This is especially true during a deadly pandemic, where households face unique hardships, and the consequences of housing instability are especially dire.

In Illinois, HB 2775 would end source of income discrimination in housing. This bill, which has already been passed by the state’s House of Representatives, would make it illegal for housing providers to discriminate based on source of income. The bill would also prevent landlords from carrying out evictions without first giving tenants the chance to pay what is owed through Emergency Rental Assistance.

Currently, at least 19 states and over 100 cities have protections against source of income discrimination. Illinois should be the next state to ensure that families are not kept out in the cold.

About the Author

Eric Sirota
Eric Sirota
Eric Sirota
Director of Housing Justice

312.767.9273

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Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.

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