Sen. Kaine introduces anti-housing discrimination law for veterans

Sen. Kaine introduces national version of state anti-housing discrimination law for veterans, low-income families 

By Ian Munro • The Virginian-Pilot • May 01, 2023 at 7:32 pm 

Sen. Tim Kaine reintroduced a 2018 bill meant to stop housing discrimination against veterans and low income families by amending the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The bill would make it illegal to not allow an individual to rent a property based on source of income or veteran status. In 2020, a similar bill — which barred discrimination against a potential renter based on source of income, with several caveats such as for landlords with less than four rental dwellings — passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support, was signed into law and took effect on July 1 of that year.

Kaine said the original 2018 federal bill he co-sponsored with Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was the result of what he had seen as a housing lawyer in Richmond: landlords not accepting housing vouchers or homeless veterans.

“Which means here’s somebody who qualifies for housing and they have good income that they can use through the voucher to pay for rent, but big chunks of the rental market are closed off to them,” Kaine said.

Over a dozen Senate Democrats have signed on to the bill and a Democrat in the House of Representatives has introduced companion legislation in that chamber, according to a joint press release from Kaine’s office.

States such as Utah and North Dakota have measures banning discrimination based on source of income or public assistance, according to Kaine and respective state websites.

The 2018 bill would “put an end to the immoral housing discrimination against veterans and others who rely on veterans’ benefits, social security disability, or other non-wage legal income.” Hatch said in a 2018 press release. “This bill will address the fact that source of income is not a protected class under the Federal Fair Housing Act, thereby helping to remove an unnecessary barrier facing Utah families and veterans on the path to self-reliance.”

Kaine said there is appetite for a federal housing bill on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, where fellow Virginia Democrat Mark Warner sits. “I think the time is such that the committee wants to do a housing bill this year and I want to get my bill added as part of it,” Kaine said.

Kaine said in his over two decades in Virginia politics, the issue of housing has risen from a top 10 issue across the state to a top three issue everywhere in the commonwealth he visits. Additionally, he hopes discussion around the bill will help to continue to spread the word that it is now illegal to decline an individual, with some exceptions, based on source of income. Kaine said his office is still hearing anecdotally that the 2020 law is not being followed.

“It’s still not widely known out there,” Kaine said. “When a law changes, it takes a while for people to realize that and so there are still people who get told ‘Hey, we’re not going to take a voucher’ (and) they don’t know it’s illegal.”

In 2021, there was almost 9% more fair housing complaints, over 31,000 total, filed than the previous year, according to the 2022 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance.