If you go

What: Second reading, public hearing on updates to city's non-discrimination laws

When: Meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday; sign-ups to speak at public hearing begins at 5 p.m.

Where: 1777 Broadway

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated that councilwoman Mary Young was spearheading this ordinance change. That change was suggested by Boulder's Human Relations Commission.

An update to Boulder's non-discrimination laws could force landlords to rent to low-income tenants and undocumented citizens, and the area's property owners say the measure has taken them by surprise.

City Council on Tuesday will consider extending protection to the two groups in matters of housing, employment and public accommodation. If approved, landlords and business owners would be barred from excluding based on source of income and immigration status, adding to considerations given on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

It's a necessary move, say housing and human rights advocates, because the stigma that persists around users of the federal Section 8 housing program.

Ads for rentals still routinely include a disclaimer: No Section 8 tenants, according to Jeremy Durham, executive director of Boulder Housing Partners (BHP). Current BHP employees who came from the private sector say it's common practice to hang up on callers inquiring about Section 8 availability.


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Durham said all of BHP's Section 8 tenants "have faced this barrier at one point or another in their search" for a place to live. He believes such responses are rooted in stereotypes about lower-income individuals, who in reality are majority elderly, disabled or single mothers and make "wonderful tenants."

The problem has only been compounded by Boulder's skyrocketing rents. Section 8 holders are required to pay a certain portion of their income toward rent; the government makes up the difference between that amount and "fair market value" for the unit.

But the feds frequently undervalue dwellings — particularly in hot markets. Landlords often opt for higher rents from market tenants.

"Maybe half or so (Section 8 renters) end up losing their voucher because they're not able to find a place," Durham said. "It's a huge problem."

Undocumented renters face their own challenges. The federal Fair Housing Act applies to citizens and non-citizens alike, according to Professor Michael Seng, director of the Fair Housing Legal Clinic at the John Marshall Law School, but the question of whether renting to such individuals constitutes "harboring" is still raised in some cases.

Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr wrote in city documents that it is "unlikely" a landlord could be held liable, citing court rulings.

Federal housing programs, including Section 8, require that at least one member of the household be "legally eligible" for assistance, Durham said. The level of financial assistance is also determined by legal status.

New York City and California currently offer housing protections to non-citizens, according to staff research on the topic. Many more cities, plus Oregon and Miami-Dade County in Florida, have laws on the books prohibiting discrimination based on source of income. Texas went the other way, banning cities from passing similar ordinances.

Legislative attempts in Denver and Colorado's House have met resistance from the Colorado Apartment Association, which represents landlords. Luke Miller, a lobbyist for the group, spoke on the (ultimately failed) efforts at a May 17 luncheon hosted by a local counterpart, Boulder Area Rental Housing Association (BARHA).

Miller characterized the push to protect Section 8 tenants in the House as a "statement bill" meant to "get Republicans on record as voting against housing choice vouchers."

"We opposed (the measure) right out of the gate," he said. "Refusing to lease based on someone's income is honorable in its intent, but we all know the problems of Section 8."

BARHA's members don't share Miller's views, said board President Cindy Angell. The organization on Friday launched an "advocacy alert" to encourage participation in Tuesday's public hearing. It has since heard from many members who rent to Section 8 tenants.

The group has not taken an official position on the ordinance. Angell said more time is needed to gather member feedback. BARHA learned of the council agenda item last week when contacted by the Camera for comment.

Council passed a first reading on consent agenda at a May 1 meeting with little discussion.

"Unfortunately, it's not a lot of time to work with," Angell said. "It's a complex issue with many pieces."

Durham is hopeful there will be strong support among landlords and others for the ordinance.

"There's so many success stories out of the program," he said, citing a women who utilized the program during nursing school and turned it in after graduation. Ditto for a law student who is now a successful tenant in town.

"Our residents tend to be really successful. We think the stigma that's attached to it is really unfair."

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle