Too often I sit across the table from Section 8 tenants who have been denied housing because of source of income discrimination. At the mere mention of using a voucher, many low income tenants are denied the opportunity to fill out an application, denied apartment showings, have phone calls and emails go ignored by realtors, or are told outright that they are unable to rent a particular apartment. These discriminatory practices are illegal on the local, state, and federal level, but are often so difficult to enforce. In that moment, Section 8 holders often feel shocked, powerless, and alone; many of them may not even be aware this practice is illegal, because real estate applications and realtors themselves don’t inform tenants of their rights, so these incidents go unreported.
Our Human Rights Commission is the body that is tasked with enforcing our local anti-discrimination ordinance, and for tonight’s Council meeting, I have co-sponsored an order with Councillors Siddiqui and Simmons which asks for information from the Commission. At last week’s Housing Committee meeting, I brought up the fact that we need more information regarding how many complaints the Commission has received, how many housing cases it has mediated, how many tenants were successful in challenging discriminatory practices, and how many mediation sessions, if any, were appealed to the Courts.
This order is a small step, but it is the first of many to end this malicious practice. Eligible tenants are illegally being denied housing based solely on their source of income, and it’s exacerbating our housing crisis. Mobile vouchers are supposed to enable them to find market-rate housing, but instead, Section 8 tenants are often relegated to certain neighborhoods or buildings, end up sitting on the long wait list for an inclusionary unit, or are forced to leave Cambridge altogether.
The Council needs to be empowered with information about these cases so that we can empower tenants and protect their rights. Our anti-discrimination ordinance helps maintain the diversity of our City, and the Council needs to do our part to work with the Human Rights Commission to enforce it if we want Cambridge to be a truly welcoming home to all.