Our Turn: Let’s ban housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors
Our housing discrimination law promises housing opportunity for all – but it has some holes. Some landlords refuse to rent to domestic violence survivors, even those who have restraining orders against their abusers. Some simply won’t accept housing assistance such as Section 8 or the VASH program for veterans. As landlords ourselves, we believe such practices give landlords a bad name and should be illegal.
New Hampshire legislators have a chance to right this wrong. HB 1409, up for a vote in the House this week, prohibits housing discrimination based on a household’s participation in a federal housing assistance program that pays part of the rent. The legislation also outlaws housing discrimination based on the fact that someone in the household has been victimized by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
A 2010 study of the impediments to equal housing opportunity in New Hampshire identified these two forms of discrimination as significant obstacles for people seeking rental housing. HB 1409 will remedy this profound and longstanding unfairness in our housing market.
A low-income senior, a veteran on the verge of homelessness, a family with children, or an individual with disabilities who is otherwise qualified for an apartment shouldn’t be denied a place to call home just because part of the rent would be paid by a housing assistance program. Like all of us, they deserve to be judged on their own merits.
HB 1409 will allow people with incomes too low to afford New Hampshire’s high cost of rental housing greater opportunity to choose neighborhoods where they’re able to access the jobs or schools that enable them to thrive. Avoiding segregation of low-income people in certain neighborhoods makes all of our communities stronger.
HB 1409 will also protect a domestic violence survivor from being victimized twice: once by her abuser and then a second time by a landlord who discriminates against her based on the abuse. Domestic violence is never the fault of the victim, and a victim shouldn’t be penalized for it when she leaves her abuser and seeks safe housing.
We recognize that some of our landlord colleagues strenuously oppose HB 1409 and have even suggested that landlords’ property insurance premiums will go up (or that they’ll face policy cancellation) if HB 1409 becomes law. Take it from us: The presence of tenants with housing assistance has no impact on landlords’ property insurance. In fact, we gladly accept tenants receiving housing assistance. The federal government has never once defaulted on its obligations under Section 8 or VASH – their payments are guaranteed rent!
We’ve also heard it said that HB 1409 gives people with housing assistance or domestic violence survivors the right to live in whatever apartments they want. That’s simply not true. Landlords will still have the right to pick and choose their tenants, so long as they’re not treating tenants or potential tenants differently because of past domestic violence victimization or the receipt of housing assistance. HB 1409 merely says that discrimination based on domestic violence or housing assistance – just like discrimination based on race or gender – shouldn’t be tolerated.
We’re in the business of renting apartments, and we’re proud to support this bill. We want the best tenants in our buildings, but we believe we can select them without relying on factors that have no bearing on their qualification. There are very few housing discrimination cases brought in New Hampshire under the existing law. We don’t think HB 1409 will change that fact because we trust that the majority of our landlord colleagues share our commitment to a fair housing market that offers equal opportunity to all.
We encourage the New Hampshire House to send HB 1409 on to the Senate. If you share our belief that discrimination based on a person’s domestic violence history or receipt of housing assistance should be unlawful, please call your representatives today.
(William Caselden is an owner of Great Bridge Properties based in Manchester. Keith Thibault is chief development officer of Southwestern Community Services based in Keene.)