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Virginia Bill Offers Protections For Tenants Who Use Housing Choice Vouchers

Virginia House Of Delegates
New Bill Targets Discrimination Against Housing Vouchers, Assistance Virginia House of Delegates. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Housing choice vouchers contribute to areas of concentrated poverty because so few landlords accept them according to a report published by Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) this year. A new bill that Virginia lawmakers will take up in January would offer protections to tenants relying on government assistance. 

Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) said housing choice vouchers are often stigmatized and can be limiting for residents looking for places to live in. 

“Many of the landlords and housing opportunities are in some of the neighborhoods where maybe they’re trying to get out of,” Bourne said. “I think it harms communities because when you have communities that are monolithic, they're not as thriving is when you have diverse sets of people in all senses of the word — living together, commuting, um, and learning from each other.”

Bourne is also a landlord. He said he’s heard stereotypes about residents with vouchers firsthand. 

“The ones that trouble me the most are the ones that have a really implied sense of racism and discrimination, which are: ‘these people tear up my apartment, they tear up my house they tear it up for six months, and then they leave and I don’t have any recourse against them because they’re underprivileged or they’re poor,’ and that’s just not true,” Bourne said.

Bourne is sponsoring a new bill that would ban landlords from discriminating against residents who rely on assistance, like vouchers. 

Each year, the public housing authority is required to recertify if tenants qualify for housing vouchers and reinspect the home. Bourne said this deters landlords from accepting vouchers. Other issues include housing agency's untimely voucher payments to landlords.

Bourne is also sponsoring other legislation that would ban officials from discriminating against affordable housing projects, in terms of zoning and permitting. Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate. 

Similar bills failed to pass a GOP controlled General Assembly last year. But with the new Democratic majority, Bourne said he’s confident they’ll push through in 2020. 

“I think the state has progressed to the point where folks understand it's inherently wrong to discriminate against somebody simply because they don't have as much.” 

The General Assembly session begins January 8.

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