Housing Options Open Up

Section 8 reform bill goes into effect

Olivia Olivia | 8/27/2014, 11:17 a.m.
Hopes are high for a Section 8 reform bill that went into effect this summer that might help reverse the ...
Humboldt Gardens in the Humboldt Neighborhood of north Portland is a diverse housing community operated by Home Forward. The housing agency has always accepted Section 8 participants.

Hopes are high for a Section 8 reform bill that went into effect this summer that might help reverse the effects of gentrification and curb discrimination.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature took an important step forward in expanding affordable housing options for low-income residents by preventing landlords from categorically refusing to rent to Section 8 voucher recipients.

House Speaker Tina Kotek put forward House Bill 2639 that passed both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber. The law protects low-income Oregonians and welcomes landlords to rent to a wider variety of residents. It also establishes a fund for landlords to be reimbursed for any damages incurred by housing residents who qualify for the federal Section 8 rent subsidies.

The bill went into effect in July, but its impact may take some time to have any measurable effect, according to attorney Lin J. Hendler who follows housing cases closely and has represented Section 8 recipients who have taken action against their landlords.

Hendler said that the path to opening up more housing options for low-income residents is longer than we might expect.

“People can still do credit checks and discriminate against tenants, but this law will prevent landlords from simply denying Section 8 vouchers altogether,” she said. “This is still a massive gain for communities of color. Basically it’s saying that you cannot discriminate against someone just because they have a Section 8 voucher. It’s a step in the right direction and that’s the important part.”

It remains unclear how many apartment complexes and homes have opened up to Section 8 renters since the July 1 onset of the new law. While obviously it will take more time to see what kind of long-term results are created by its implementation, housing advocates predict that at least some Section 8 recipients will move towards the city center in reverse of past trends that saw disadvantaged residents pushed further out.

Hendler expressed concern that it might be too late to reverse the effects of gentrification.

“It is never too late to diversify a community, but it’s hard to say what kind of results to expect. We can plant the seeds of change in these areas but it will take time for our efforts to show. This isn’t just about what people can afford but about where they feel comfortable and where they can find the resources they need. It will be years before things like black churches or Asian grocery stores can move, and they are the biggest indicators of where a community grows,” she said.

Jill Smith, who works for the Portland housing agency Home Forward and was involved in the formation of the bill, said that she expects to see the effects of this new legislation in about six months.

“Right now it’s hard to tell,” she said.

Smith has helped provide landlord training on Section 8 housing, training that will hopefully provide new residents and landlords with the tools they need to adjust to the new anti-discrimination bill.