Where you live matters. The zip code you live in matters even more. According to a recent study by Virginia Commonwealth University, life expectancy for those that live in the 44103 zip code near St Clair and Superior is 12 years less than for those living 10 miles down the road in the 44124 zip code of Lyndhurst. Your zip code dictates whether or not your child goes to school in a failing district. Where you live also determines your access to transportation, food, employment and social opportunities. People who  want to improve their quality of life often seek a way into those “better neighborhoods.”

Moving into a more desirable neighborhood may be an easy task for some, but if you have a Housing Choice Voucher (also known as Section 8), it may be more difficult. The Housing Research Advocacy Center recently determined that voucher holders tend to live in predominantly disadvantaged neighborhoods with fewer opportunities; in Cuyahoga County, over 80 percent live in areas with high concentrations of poverty and crime. “Fair market rent” regulations restrict people’s choices to units whose rent is under a calculated limit, which are primarily located in impoverished neighborhoods. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calculates that in Cuyahoga County, the maximum rent for a voucher holder needing a two-bedroom home is $773 per month.

“No Section 8”

Finding a landlord that will accept their voucher can also be very difficult. Countless advertisements on Craigslist and in newspapers boldly declare “No Section 8.” The tenant could pass an onslaught of background and credit checks and still be denied simply based on their source of payment.

Section 8 should offer low income families the chance to move into safer, better-equipped neighborhoods of their choice; but that is simply not the case. The exact opposite occurs, and most voucher holders are concentrated in areas with blighted homes, food deserts, failing schools, and gang violence. 

Racial and income discrimination is not the only housing problem in Ohio. People can be denied a lease simply for being LGBTQ.

Why do landlords refuse Section 8 tenants?

Some landlords may scoff at having a tenant paying with housing vouchers. They might assume that these tenants will damage the property or will discourage non-voucher tenants from renting. These concerns originate from negative stigmas surrounding the program and the people who use it. In a survey of landlords in the Cuyahoga County area, one landlord explained, “I would be responsible for bed bug infestation, roaches and to accommodate a disability which I felt would be more likely with voucher tenants.”

Has the term “Section 8” become a racial slur?

This video shows a McKinney, Texas woman telling Black kids at a public pool party, “Go back to your Section 8 homes,” indicating what people may subconsciously or even consciously think of the program and its beneficiaries. Almost 90 percent of the recipients of voucher holders in Cuyahoga County are Black. Denying voucher holders is often viewed as a loophole to discriminate based on race. While it is a program designed to assist people with low incomes find affordable housing, it was also intended to desegregate communities.

While it is already illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant  based on factors like race or religion, communities are slowly adding source of income as a protected factor in fair housing ordinances. In northeast Ohio, municipalities like South Euclid, Warrensville Heights, University Heights and Linndale forbid making properties “No Section 8.” These laws are a great start to combating the issue but there is much more that can be done.

Of course, not all tenants want to move into higher-priced neighborhoods. Some voucher recipients may feel most comfortable in their long-time communities. Yet for those who feel that they are trapped in neighborhoods by a system that was supposed to help them find opportunities, stronger non-discrimination laws can help provide decent, affordable housing for all in the neighborhoods that they desire.