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Austin Bans Discrimination Against Voucher-Holding Renters (Update)

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Wells Dunbar/KUT News
City council will vote on an ordinance that would make it illegal for landlords to deny rental applicants on Section 8 housing vouchers.

Austin’s long on housing stock, but the city's still struggling to expand affordable housing options across Austin.

Today, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance to “create” more affordable housing units by requiring existing apartments to accept Section 8 housing vouchers – subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that can pay up to 70 percent of rent for low-income, disabled and elderly tenants.

The ordinance increases options for Section 8 holders ninefold, but some landlords aren’t happy about it.

Austin Apartment Association President Robbie Robinson says his organization doesn’t support the ordinance drafted by the city's Human Rights Commission earlier this year. If council makes it permanent, most landlords would be required to look at a voucher's value and consider it equal to cash.

“If the vouchers were truly equal to cash or checks – there wouldn't be an issue,” says Robinson. “But, again, it's tied to all the requirements that come with the Section 8 program.”

Landlords would be required to provide inspections for structural standards and some appliances as well. The city's Human Rights Commission argues that by making voucher holders a "protected class" the city would open up thousands more units, and wouldn't have to wait until more are built. Commissioner Lisa Brenner says the ordinance would have a “very small” but much needed impact.

The impact for people like Udana Taylor would be huge. Taylor teaches at a pre-school and earns $9.85 an hour. She and her 2-year-old students are cleaning up magnet tiles before they head out to music class. She pauses, remembering the day she signed up for Section 8.

“My daughter was 4 years old when I got on the waitlist,” she says. a plump toddler with pigtails and tons of barrettes in her hair. “And she was 11 when I got accepted for Section 8.”

That was just a year ago. Now, Taylor's little girl is an adolescent taller than her mom.

Housing advocates believe the wait period for voucher holders could drop if the city had a larger housing stock.

And the Human Rights commission is convinced that by making vouchers a valid source of income, which is also protected from discrimination, is one way to get there.

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