Beginning this week it will be illegal for a landlord in suburban Cook County to deny housing to a person solely because they present a Section 8 housing voucher. That is good and fair and overdue. We commend the Cook County board for amending the county’s Human Rights Ordinance to make this change.
We recognize that mentioning the federally funded Section 8 program can be a dog whistle for some and that it brings out all manner of hateful and ignorant speech and a whole lot of anecdotal horror stories.
Here’s what we know though: Good landlords can and should continue to actively screen prospective tenants. Those with criminal histories, poor credit and bad references from previous landlords are a bad risk, whether they have a voucher or not. Reject them. There are good reasons evicting tenants isn’t easy, but Section 8 tenants can be booted and sometimes deserve to be.
But as Ed Solan, executive director of the Oak Park Housing Authority, told us on Monday, “Having a voucher is a godsend in this economy,” and very few people abuse the privilege. He told us the local housing authority has 480 Section 8 vouchers allocated by federal agencies. With federal funding cutbacks, 30 of those vouchers are currently unfunded. Given the state of debate in D.C., it is highly unlikely funding for Section 8 will be expanded anytime soon.
So while voucher holders will have more freedom in where they seek housing under the changed county law, there aren’t any additional people being granted vouchers. If anything, over time Oak Park might see a somewhat smaller number of Section 8 tenants choosing the village as home.
Time to take some deep breaths.