Tucson should support new tenant protection

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

The City of Tucson’s Mayor and Council will discuss and possibly vote Tuesday on whether to implement a source of income protection ordinance. In short, this would add income source to the list of protected groups under local fair housing laws, meaning a landlord would not be able to refuse to accept an application from a prospective tenant based on that person’s source of income, including a Housing Choice voucher formerly known as Section 8.

Finding landlords willing to engage in housing subsidy programs has become a significant challenge over the last couple of years as we’ve moved through the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the housing market has tightened its grip on low- and middle-income households, further limiting housing options through rapidly increasing rents and record-low vacancy rates. This means that the call for more affordable housing is increasingly more urgent.

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While housing experts and policy makers in Arizona have worked hard to direct federal stimulus funding towards new affordable housing projects, the need to also preserve existing solutions is a huge piece of the puzzle. While getting new projects off the ground and through construction takes time, it’s important to also leverage what already exists. One of the most effective tools is the housing subsidy program. It provides secure housing options for low-income households. Section 8 and the HUD-VASH subsidy program for veterans, for example, provide rental assistance to income-eligible tenants by subsidizing a portion of the household rent and paying it directly to landlords.

There are many benefits to housing subsidy programs for landlords, including that a substantial portion of rent owed will be paid reliably each month and that tenants with housing subsidies are more likely to stay longer, meaning lower vacancy and turnover rates. The City of Tucson, particularly in the past few years, has done an excellent job at improving their Housing Choice Voucher Program for landlords, by reducing the average initial payment to 15 days and by creating a Landlord Support team to assist landlords with the program process .

I’m pleased to see Tucson taking this step in housing policy and leading the way for other municipal governments to follow in Arizona. SOI protection has been on the radar in housing policy solutions for a long time, and Arizona falls behind other states by currently having no SOI protection laws within state or local government.

As we grapple with the devastating impacts of the affordable housing crisis, including significantly increasing rates of homelessness and rising eviction rates in Tucson, it’s critical that local municipal leaders leverage every available solution to address our current housing climate. SOI protection is a simple policy solution that allows us to preserve existing resources in this difficult housing landscape.

Joanna Carr is the research and policy director for the Arizona Housing Coalition.

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