TX bans HOAs from discriminating against renters who receive federal housing aid

ByJoshua Fechter, The Texas Tribune
Friday, July 7, 2023
Lawmakers look for solutions into affordable housing crisis in Houston
The Texas House of Representatives Committee on Urban Affairs met to hear from people who are working to solve the affordable housing crisis.

In a rare, friendly move to low-income renters, Texas lawmakers this year outlawed a form of discrimination that allowed homeowners associations to ban some tenants from their neighborhoods.

The video above is from a previous report.

The move - spearheaded by state Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat - was aimed squarely at a North Texas neighborhood that tried to oust poorer tenants who get assistance from the federal housing choice voucher program and keep new ones from taking their place. The voucher program, known as Section 8, pays a portion of a low-income household's rent.

The Providence Homeowners Association enacted a rule last summer that barred landlords from renting to Section 8 tenants, which would have left the entire town of Providence Village - a town of about 7,700 people about an hour's drive north of Dallas - off-limits to those renters. Critics saw the rule as blatant racial discrimination given that the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood's Section 8 renter households were Black.

That proved too hostile to low-income tenants even for the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature. Texas is one of the few states that explicitly allows landlords to reject renters if they receive housing vouchers. Just this year, lawmakers barred cities from creating local ordinances that protect tenants facing eviction.

But barring Section 8 tenants from entire neighborhoods crossed a line for a lot of Republicans in the state Capitol. Democrats and enough Republicans in the Texas House joined forces during the regular legislative session to approve Turner's bill outlawing the practice, and the bill cleared the Senate with all but six Republican votes. It helped, Turner said, that the bill had backing from groups like Texas Realtors and the Texas Apartment Association as well as housing advocates and groups representing neighborhood associations.

Come Sept. 1, the practice will be illegal.

"Just the facts of what inspired this legislation are so egregious that it really spoke to the need for legislation to end this type of overt discrimination," Turner said. "I think that it's very clear what the discriminatory effect is of a policy like this."

The Providence HOA board enacted the policy last June as the neighborhood blamed Section 8 tenants for a perceived uptick in local criminal activity. Tempers had flared on social media and even led to at least one physical confrontation between neighbors.

Two months later, the HOA agreed to pause the policy as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched an investigation into whether the HOA had violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race. That investigation is ongoing.

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The HOA policy threatened to displace more than 170 families from the majority-white enclave. Of those households, more than three-quarters were Black - and most households were headed by women.

Turner's bill "sends a very strong message to the homeowners association that they're not allowed to do this," said Laura Beshara, a civil rights lawyer representing some of the Providence tenants.

Facing a hostile environment and uncertainty over whether they could ultimately stay in the neighborhood, dozens of families moved out. Of the 171 voucher households that lived in Providence at the time of the ban, less than 100 remain, according to figures provided by the Dallas and Denton housing authorities.

The Texas Tribune found that two other North Texas HOAs had policies banning Section 8 tenants.

Voucher holders continued to move to Providence after the ban was paused. Thirty families moved into the neighborhood during the past year, according to the Dallas housing authority.

In a statement Friday, the Providence HOA board said they would comply with the law. The board recently adopted rental and leasing rules that do not include the Section 8 ban.

"We will continue to fight for our homeowners every day because every resident deserves security and comfort in their home and community," the board said.

Finding affordable housing has become increasingly difficult for low-income families in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as Texas' economy booms and more people move to the region, driving up housing demand and rent prices.

Dallas alone faces a shortfall of 33,660 rental units that are affordable for households making 50% of the area median income or less, according to a recent report by the Dallas nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab. That shortage is expected to grow to 83,500 by the end of the decade, the report found.

SEE ALSO: Texas lawmakers hear possible solutions to affordable housing crisis in Houston area

Even if a low-income family gets a housing choice voucher, Texas landlords don't have to rent to them - and are less likely to now given the demand for the state's rental housing, housing advocates say.

A 2020 report by Inclusive Communities Project found that out of 1,413 rental properties surveyed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, only 226 accepted vouchers - mostly in areas that are poor and Black. The organization dubbed 18 suburbs, nearly all majority-white, "voucher no-go zones" - places where no landlord surveyed would rent to voucher holders.

That makes it difficult for low-income families to move to areas with better job opportunities and better schools, said Ann Lott, Inclusive Communities Project's executive director. That HOAs can no longer ban Section 8 households in Texas is a win, she said.

"When you see occupancy rates as high as it is and the market is as hard as it is, it becomes increasingly difficult to find landlords who will take Section 8," Lott said. "This is a big victory for us."

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