Kirkland considers ordinance to protect Section 8 tenants

KIRKLAND, Wash. - In an effort to protect against discrimination, Kirkland city officials are considering an ordinance that would prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to a tenant who receives help paying for housing in the private market.

"Housing diversity is one of the council's primary housing goals," said Dawn Nelson, with Kirkland's planning department. "This is seen as another thing the city can do to assure access to housing for everyone who would like to live in Kirkland."

The city originally considered approving a similar ordinance several years ago, but it was never adopted. Since then Redmond passed its own Section 8 Housing ordinance after several national companies with properties in the city sent letters to tenants using vouchers stating their leases would not be extended due to changes in the companies' rental policies.

"The City of Redmond ended up working with those property owners and ultimately the two companies decided not to implement those policies locally," Nelson said. "Having an ordinance in place will have some effect on deterring other national companies from trying to take that stance here."

Under the ordinance, landlords would be prohibited from refusing to rent property to a tenant solely based on their use of a Section 8 Housing Voucher. Nelson said that does not mean an applicant can never be turned away, especially if the landlord has established a set of rental guidelines that do not meet the rental guidelines of the Section 8 Housing program.

The King County Housing Authority (KCHA) oversees the area's Section 8 Housing Voucher program, providing rental assistance to residents with the highest need. The tenant pays no more than 40 percent of their household income toward rent and utilities, and KCHA pays the difference.

Due to the sheer demand for Section 8 Housing Vouchers, the ordinance Kirkland is proposing makes sense, according to KCHA.

"We think that anything that encourages adherence to fair housing guidelines and prevents discrimination is a good thing," said Rhonda Rosenberg, director of communications for KCHA.

Currently, there are 400 households in Kirkland using Section 8 Vouchers, of these 20 percent are elderly, 25 percent have a family member with a disability, and 55 percent are families with children.

"We want to make sure once someone gets a voucher they don't encounter problems being able to use them in the market place," Rosenberg said.

Nelson said Seattle and Bellevue already have similar Section 8 Housing Voucher ordinances on the books.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for March 19, inside Kirkland City Hall. The City Council will take public input during the meeting and could vote on the ordinance. The public hearing portion of the meeting will start around 7:30 p.m.