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A bill in the Iowa Senate would prevent municipalities and counties from passing ordinances to stop landlords from discriminating against renters if they use public assistance, such as Section 8 housing vouchers, to pay rent.

An Iowa Senate subcommittee voted in favor of Senate Study Bill 3178, a bill that would prevent cities and counties from blocking landlords and property owners from discriminating against renters based on their source of income.

Currently in Des Moines, property owners cannot refuse to rent a property based on a renter’s source of income. This is in accordance with Ordinance No. 15,781, enacted last summer. Included in this ordinance are protections from discrimination for those receiving aid from Social Security, child support, alimony, veterans’ benefits and Section 8 housing vouchers, which assist low-income families, the elderly and the disabled.

Ames does not have such an ordinance. It instead has the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, handicap, sex or familial status.

Story County’s Section 8 voucher assistance program is controlled by the Central Iowa Regional Housing Authority (CIRHA). The CIRHA had a contract for just over 1,000 vouchers, but due to funding allocated by the Iowa Legislature, only 900 of those vouchers are funded. 

Vanessa Baker-Latimer, housing coordinator for the City of Ames, said as of February 2020, 276 of these vouchers are used in Story County.

The others span across Boone, Dallas, Jasper, Madison and Marion counties. Two-hundred and twenty-one of the vouchers in Story County are allocated specifically to Ames, meaning that just under 25 percent of all the vouchers controlled by the CIRHA, spanning a six-county region, are being used by Ames residents.

Republican Sen. Jeff Edler said without this bill, more problems would be created than end up being solved.

“Cities and counties should not be allowed to coerce private entities into non-consensual contract agreements,” Edler said.

Another question those in opposition have raised is whether the enactment of this bill would allow landlords and property owners to evict current residents based on their source of income.

Edler said no, that the bill would not hold authority over any preexisting federal housing contract. 

If the bill passes, it would invalidate Des Moines’ local ordinance. The bill would have no effect on Ames’ Fair Housing Act, as that ordinance does not include sources of rent payment as an illegal discriminatory act.

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