PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council has given overwhelming approval to a measure that would prevent landlords and property owners from discriminating against renters or buyers who rely on public assistance for income.
The council voted 8-1 Wednesday for the “source of income” ordinance, which is similar to a Tucson law that is currently being reviewed by Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes.
Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said the ordinance is needed after many people spoke in favor of the bill at the March 1 council meeting.
“We need to be doing everything in our power to ensure that our residents have access to adequate housing, and that they are actually able to utilize the programs that are intended to to help them, like Section 8, disability and others,” Ansari said.
The “Source of Income Discrimination Prohibition” ordinance, will protect residents who use Section 8 housing vouchers, unemployment and veteran’s benefits, Social Security disability insurance, and more.
“This ordinance will make it much tougher for residents to be denied a home for receiving government assistance and ensures Phoenix will stay at the forefront of housing justice,” said Anahi Torres, field organizing director for the Unemployed Workers United, which had been pushing for the ordinance.
In September, the Tucson City Council passed an ordinance that added “source of income” to a list of factors such as race and sexual orientation that are protected from discrimination by landlords.
Arizona’s then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the ordinance violated state law, which allowed large cities and towns to enact fair housing laws, but they had to be approved before Jan. 1, 1995.
The Tucson ordinance has since been on hold, but Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Ansari and six other council members asked Mayes to allow Tucson’s ordinance to proceed.
“Not only is the Ordinance within the City’s authority, but it also addresses a problem all too common in housing discrimination,” Gallego and council members wrote to Mayes in a Jan. 27 letter. “The practice of considering a source of income is often utilized to discriminate against renters who would use housing vouchers, as well as other sources of income such as Social Security disability, and foster family credits.”
The letter also advised Mayes the city “is not precluded” from adopting its own source of income discrimination ordinance because “Attorney General’s opinions are advisory only and are not binding on courts of law.”
The ordinance was added to the council’s agenda after Council members Laura Pastor of District 4, Betty Guardado of District 5 and Carlos Garcia of District 8 told City Manager Jeff Barton in a letter that the city’s law department had already drafted a source of income discrimination ordinance.
“Seven of the eight members of the Phoenix City Council and the Mayor are all in agreement that the denial of rental tenants based on their source of income goes against the fundamental civil right to fair housing,” the Feb. 17 letter states.
Council member Sal DiCiccio was the only vote against the ordinance. DiCiccio said he gave the Phoenix Realtors Association his word that he would not support the ordinance if it went beyond renters to include home buyers.
The Realtors group opposes the ordinance because some of the sources of income included in the ordinance would not be accepted as income to qualify for a loan under Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Federal Housing Administration program requirements.
Source of income in the ordinance is defined as “any lawful source of income or support that provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing and is verifiable as to amount, regularity, receipt, and length of time received or to be received,” according to the formal draft. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a minimum of $300 and a maximum of $2,500, which increases after the first violation.
The ordinance is now in a 30-day wait period and will not be enforced until Mayes has released her decision on the Tucson “source of income” ordinance.
Mayes spokesman Richie Taylor said there is no set timeline for that review.
“I won’t have anything to share until the reconsideration of the Tucson ordinance has been completed. We will make that public when it’s finished,” Taylor said.
Michelle Ashton, an Arizona resident who works with older adults looking for housing, spoke in favor of the ordinance before the vote at City Hall.
“We need you to vote yes on this ordinance. It’s far long overdue,” Ashton said. “There are no options left available for the clients that I work with, and many, many other residents here in the Phoenix area.
“The rent is too high,” Ashton continued. “How is somebody supposed to afford two-and-a-half times the rent on a Social Security income?”