Opponents fear House-approved bill would preempt a Louisville housing ordinance

Lexington also is considering outlawing discrimination by landlords based on tenants’ source of income

By: - January 23, 2024 6:16 pm

“I’m a proponent of local control. But this is where we as a body, we should draw a line in the sand because this is not truly a local control issue — it is a property rights issue,” said Rep. Ryan Dotson of a bill that preempts local governments from banning housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Republican-backed legislation passed the Kentucky House of Representatives Tuesday that would ban local governments from requiring landlords to accept federal housing vouchers from tenants, something housing advocates say no local government has done

House Bill 18, sponsored by Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, passed 74-20 on a party line vote with the minority of Democrats repeating concerns that it would invalidate a Louisville ordinance that bans discrimination by landlords based on source of income.

That ordinance was passed by Louisville Metro Council with unanimous, bipartisan support in 2020, and a Lexington city committee approved Tuesday such an ordinance to be considered by the full city council. 

Louisville’s ordinance does not require landlords to accept prospective tenants with federal housing vouchers, such as “Section 8” housing choice vouchers, but instead prohibits landlords from not renting to a tenant solely because the tenant is using a federal housing voucher for rent. 

Dotson, who’s a landlord for a Clark County rental property, said on the House floor that his bill was an “opportunity to stop the blatant overreach” of Fayette County and Jefferson County that he asserted was forcing property owners to “take section 8 vouchers and other government housing.” 

“I’m a proponent of local control. But this is where we as a body, we should draw a line in the sand because this is not truly a local control issue — it is a property rights issue,” Dotson said. 

Several Democrats voiced their opposition to the legislation, echoing concerns from housing advocates that the legislation would exacerbate racial segregation in housing and limit the housing choices of low-income families, veterans who rely on housing vouchers and other vulnerable groups. 

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, said there were already many ways landlords could discriminate against tenants and that source of income discrimination bans prevent only one kind of discrimination. 

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, said the House was “at the top of a very slippery slope” with not only preempting what Kentucky cities can do in the future but also overriding “duly elected local officials.” 

Dotson pushed back against some of the criticisms against HB 16, saying those opposing the bill don’t want to offer solutions to a real “housing crisis” the state is facing. 

“Nobody’s negating the fact there’s homelessness, but the word discrimination gets thrown around so frequently because they don’t want to sit down and talk about real solutions,” Dotson said. “They don’t want mobile home parks — no, that’s not pretty enough. We don’t want some tiny home communities.” 

Stalker directly responded to Dotson’s assertion that critics weren’t offering solutions, saying she was a co-sponsor of a bill that would provide no-cost birth certificates to homeless people under the age of 25. 

In a gathering with reporters after the bill passed, Dotson said he wasn’t aware of a similar bill being considered in the state Senate until this year’s legislative session began. Senate Bill 25, which the Senate on Tuesday passed over voting on, more specifically targets low-income housing vouchers. 

When asked if the bill is hamstringing local officials, Dotson said the legislation is about protecting against infringement of “individual property rights.” 

“I’m here to protect as a legislator the rights of my constituents and to protect the rights of citizens all across the country,” Dotson said.

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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.