By Madeline Howard, Western Center housing attorney
This week, Governor Newsom signed two historic renter protections into California law, both of which Western Center proudly co-sponsored, both decades in the making.
Assemblymember David Chiu’s AB 1482 is getting most of the attention because it establishes something many housing advocates never thought we would see in California – statewide protection from “no cause” evictions, and anti-rent gouging protections. Without these protections, most California landlords could evict a tenant without stating a reason – even long-term tenants who always paid their rent on time and followed all of the rules. And across the state, we’ve seen Californians indirectly evicted from their homes when rents are raised by 50, even 100 percent. The passage of AB 1482 will halt this unsustainable trajectory to keep more people in their homes.
The second of our bills that was signed into law is Senator Holly Mitchell’s SB 329. SB 329 was also an uphill battle, because so many people have unfounded negative perceptions about the federal housing voucher program, and many landlords openly state “No Section 8” in their rental listings.* SB 329 will prevent that from now on. Just as landlords are not permitted to discriminate against rental applicants because of things like race and gender, now California has outlawed discrimination based on a person’s use of housing assistance to pay the rent.
If you are wondering why SB 329 is such a big deal, let me explain. Remember the horrifying photos of a suburban police officer in Texas kneeling on a young black girl’s back as she cried, face down on the grass, in her bathing suit? Someone in the mostly-white neighborhood had called the police on the group of black teenagers for being “rowdy.” Why am I reminding you of yet another ugly incident of police brutality, violent racism, and white supremacy? Because one of those white neighbors reportedly yelled, “Go back to your Section 8 housing!”
SB 329 matters because it addresses this kind of racism head on. While our fair housing laws have long made it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to someone because of their race, California landlords were still free to say “No Section 8.”
In a chilling echo of the blatant discrimination that dominated centuries of American history, many signs and online rental listings openly say “no dogs, no Section 8.” SB 329 is important not just because it will help low income people who rely on housing vouchers actually access housing of their choice (which is hugely important on its own), but also because it addresses an ugly vestige of our deeply racist housing industry.
Our amazing housing policy advocate Sasha Harnden worked tirelessly to get SB 329 into place, because in his time as a legal services attorney in LA, he saw firsthand how clients were repeatedly turned away from housing because of landlords’ “No Section 8” policies. We are hopeful that despite the continuous rollback of civil rights on the federal level, this step forward for California will help thousands of people find and keep stable, safe, affordable housing with their vouchers, and that SB 329 will be a powerful tool for combating housing discrimination. There is so much more work to be done, but with this law we move closer to tackling segregation and racist, exclusionary practices in housing.
Just as California takes huge steps to address discrimination in housing, the Trump administration threatens to undermine decades of Civil Rights protections under the Fair Housing Act by gutting the Disparate Impact rule. To get involved in the fight to stop this civil rights rollback, visit www.fightforhousingjustice.org.
In California, we are deeply grateful to Senator Holly Mitchell for her incredible leadership on the issue of housing voucher discrimination, and I am immensely proud of my colleagues in Sacramento, Sasha Harnden and Anya Lawler, who worked so hard to make these bills happen. In the midst of the state’s housing crisis, people shouldn’t be turned away from stable housing because they need rental assistance. California is an expensive state to live in, and it’s only getting worse. The relief renters can access through various federal, state, and local housing voucher programs is an important tool in California’s fight to keep people housed and off the street. I am so proud to be a part of the team that made these historic wins happen, and I am excited to see what we can build on from here.
* The federal housing choice voucher program was previously known as “Section 8” and many people still refer to it that way.