GOP bill would ban KY cities from requiring landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers. None do.

Sponsor says bill is about preventing ‘unconstitutional’ mandate. Tenant advocates say it could lead to discrimination.

By: - January 17, 2024 7:31 pm
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, speaks before a Senate committee.

Kentucky state Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, says his bill would prevent landlords from being required to accept tenants who use low-income housing vouchers. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Kentucky cities could not require landlords to take federal low-income housing vouchers, also known as “Section 8” vouchers, for rent under a bill passed out of a Senate committee Wednesday. Housing and tenant advocates, who strongly oppose the proposal, say it could potentially stop efforts by Kentucky’s two largest cities to prevent housing discrimination. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, told members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee that Senate Bill 25 would prevent cities such as Louisville and Lexington from forcing “a property owner to accept the Section 8 program.”

“That’s where you have a conflict,” West said. “If you force a property owner to accept Section 8, I would say that that is unconstitutional.” 

The bill passed 8-1 along party lines. It now advances for consideration by the entire state Senate.

West said that “some of this is preemptive” with his legislation and that there is a “housing crisis” in Kentucky’s largest cities, driven by inflation and strict zoning laws preventing housing construction. 

Affordable housing advocates in the state told the Lantern that no local city ordinance currently mandates that landlords accept a tenant using low-income housing assistance to help pay rent. 

That includes a Louisville ordinance that bans landlords from refusing to rent to someone  based on their source of income, including if a tenant is applying for a rental with a housing voucher. Lexington is also considering a similar ban.

A source of income discrimination ban “is not a mandate,” said Adrienne Bush, the executive director for the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky. “[Landlords] have to consider a voucher or child support or disability income the same as they would employment income and evaluate a rental applicant similarly.” 

She said SB 25 would unfairly limit housing opportunities for tens of thousands of Kentuckians who rely on housing vouchers, along with interfering with local control by cities. 

Housing and tenant advocates also oppose House Bill 18, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, which would explicitly prohibit source of income discrimination bans adopted by local governments. That bill is scheduled to be heard in a House committee Thursday.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, the lone vote against West’s bill in committee, said Louisville Metro Council passed its discrimination ban ordinance with unanimous, bipartisan support garnering two dozen votes for it. Two of the seven Republicans on the council at that time voted present or abstained. 

Chambers Armstrong, a law professor at the University of Louisville, said she was concerned SB 25 as written could be interpreted by a judge as preempting and invalidating Louisville’s source of income discrimination ban.

“We are seeing people struggle to find housing, and this body is considering a lot of different ways to address that. I worry about the people that we’re going to harm by this bill,” Chambers Armstrong said to the committee. “I can’t think of many ordinances I’ve seen where local government has spoken so unanimously and in such a unified way.” 

West, responding to Chambers Armstrong during the committee meeting, said his legislation potentially wouldn’t conflict with Louisville’s ordinance if there’s no mandate that landlords accept housing vouchers.

Lexington City Council member Shayla Lynch, the co-sponsor of Lexington’s source of income discrimination ban under consideration, told the Senate committee she believed city’s proposal would help “literally open doors” for those unhoused and “marginally housed” in her city who rely on the housing vouchers. 

She said SB 25, alternatively, would allow for racial discrimination against those who use housing vouchers in Lexington, considering a large majority of voucher users in the city are Black. 

“I don’t think our Commonwealth should be perpetuating that type of law statewide. We don’t want to be endorsing that kind of law statewide,” Lynch said.

Lynch said landlords under Lexington’s proposal could still decide who they wanted to rent to for other “non-discrimintory” reasons besides source of income and could choose to rent to other qualified tenants not using vouchers. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who helped vote the bill out of committee, said arguments by housing advocates against the legislation were “pretty specious” and that he considers the bill to be “simple.” 

“You cannot force a landlord to take Section 8 housing vouchers. So I disagree with most of their testimony,” Thayer said. “It is a voluntary program and it should remain voluntary.”

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.