This month, the New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote on a measure prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters who use Section 8 housing vouchers. While the bill got a thumbs-down from the committee that worked on it, the House could still decide to pass it anyway. If the legislation becomes law, it could have a big impact on New Hampshire’s low-income renters and landlords.
About the bill
The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, provides very low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities a voucher for rent. The program pays a landlord directly for the amount of the voucher; if the actual rent charged exceeds the voucher amount, the renter pays the landlord the difference.
HB 1291, proposed by Durham Democrat Rep. Cam Kenney, makes it unlawful to deny a rental unit to a prospective tenant on the basis they receive a housing voucher. The bill also shores up some potential loopholes; it makes clear that landlords wouldn’t be held responsible for denying a tenant if the rent for the unit is higher than the housing authority allows. Landlords also wouldn’t be held responsible for denying a Section 8 tenant if the unit fails to meet the Housing Quality Standards laid out by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. These standards include, for example, how many electrical outlets and windows each room must have.
This new legislation amends New Hampshire’s law against discrimination. Therefore, if a renter was denied an apartment solely because they used Section 8 housing vouchers, that renter could file a complaint against the landlord with the state Human Rights Commission.
Section 8 Housing in New Hampshire
It’s no secret that affordable housing is in short supply in the Granite State. There is a long wait to receive housing assistance, with many waiting anywhere from five to nine years. Once a renter receives their housing voucher, they only have between 30 and 90 days to find an apartment. If they miss the deadline, they lose out on the assistance money.
As if meeting that deadline weren’t difficult enough, many landlords explicitly state on rental advertisements that they do not accept Section 8 recipients. This could help explain why last year, out of 1,581 vouchers, 294 expired without ever being used, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
A matter of fairness
Supporters of HB 1291 argue that it is unfair to discriminate against a tenant based on whether the government subsidizes their rent.
The bill also doesn’t state that landlords are required to rent to anyone with housing vouchers; tenants can still be screened in other ways. Rental applications may include a criminal background check, references, questions about pets, and so on. Under HB 1291 Landlords just couldn’t deny people strictly based on their Section 8 status, just as they can’t deny someone based purely on their skin color.
At the public hearing for this bill, proponents offered other arguments in favor of the bill that those unfamiliar with Section 8 might not be aware of. For example, the bill could have an impact on New Hampshire’s disability community, because many of those who receive Section 8 housing vouchers experience disabilities.
Unfair to Landlords?
Opponents argued the bill would have unintended consequences. For one, it could be a burden on landlords, not necessarily because of the tenants but because of the bureaucratic red tape that comes with these vouchers. The program requires landlords to fill out extra forms, modify their existing leases, and offers little protection if renters break their leases.
They also worry that the law could make housing even less affordable. One way for landlords to avoid taking Section 8 vouchers under this law would be to simply raise rents for everyone.
Rather than putting the onus on landlords, opponents of this bill say the answer lies with the state housing authority and the federal government. They argue there should be more subsidized housing development and more money for vouchers to help address the housing shortage. There could also be ways to incentivize landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers rather than forcing them to do so.
What do you think?
Though this bill was given a thumbs-down by its committee in an 11-10 vote, the full House of Representatives will still get a chance to vote on the bill soon. They are under no obligation to follow the committee’s recommendation. Therefore, whether you side with proponents of the bill or opponents, you still have time to contact your legislators and tell them how you think they should vote on HB 1291. You can get started by visiting our Elected Officials page to learn who represents you and how to contact them.