116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By Rick Smith and Jillian Petrus
CEDAR RAPIDS - Landlords and Realtors have put the city on notice that they object a proposed new section of Cedar Rapids' Civil Rights Ordinance that would prohibit individuals from being denied housing based on particular kinds of lawful sources of income.
The City Council set a public hearing for Dec. 6 on the proposed section and other changes to the city's Civil Rights Ordinance.
The city's Civil Rights Commission has been at work for the entire year to make lawful source of income a protected class specific to housing in the city. This would prevent anyone from discriminating against people with income sources coming from federal or state financial aid programs, alimony, pensions, grants or vouchers (not Section 8). The commission is considering the move as part of an overall evaluation of fair housing standards in Cedar Rapids.
“If some of their income is being subsidized by outside means, they should not be penalized to find adequate housing,” Karl Cassell, the commission's executive director, said.
“We're asking them to treat those individuals the same way they'd treat someone whose had a job and has been working 20 years."
Congress failed to pass a federal bill in 2010 to add source of income as a protected class under the Federal Housing Act. However, The District of Columbia and 12 other states have laws to prevent income discrimination. Iowa is not one of those states.
Five landlords and Realtors could not wait for Dec. 6 and voiced objections at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. In part, the group noted that the state's civil rights ordinance does not address lawful sources of income, and so why should the city's ordinance? they said.
"If you compare a cash offer to a government loan, the risk factor is much higher,” Sheryl Jahnel, with Iowa Realty, said in an interview with The Gazette and KCRG-TV9.
Jahnel said government should not decide what monetary offer is best for a homeowner's situation. Different conditions come with every state or federal financial program, she said. That's likely why few states have created a protected class based on income, she said.
Jahnel said she thinks homeowners could find themselves in court if they're not careful.
Cassell said people may take up lawsuits but that's out of the commission's jurisdiction. His bigger concern is if Cedar Rapids doesn't act, people might consider calling somewhere else home.
"Better to address this now than wait for complaints,” Cassell said, “or worse people don't want to live here because those are issues."
In January, the Civil Rights Commission included wording in the proposed section that would prohibit renters from being denied an apartment simply because they were using government assistance, including a Section 8 low-income housing voucher, to pay part of the rent.
After Tuesday's City Council meeting, council member Monica Vernon said vouchers were removed from the proposed section of the ordinance, though other forms of government assistance and sources of income like child support still would be protected under the proposed ordinance section.
For more on federal and state fair housing laws click here.
To view Jillian Petrus'
report on KCRG-TV9 click to this link and then click the picture.