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Proposed bills could impact local housing discrimination laws in Kentucky

Kentucky state Capitol dome viewed from outside
J. Tyler Franklin
Kentucky lawmakers are considering two pieces of legislation that take aim at different forms of federal housing assistance.

The Kentucky General Assembly is considering two bills that housing advocates say could make it harder for low-income residents to find affordable rentals.

A state Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban local governments in Kentucky from requiring landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers.

A similar bill in the House, HB 18, would expand such a ban to include all federal housing assistance programs, including housing vouchers for veterans. The House Standing Committee on State Government will discuss HB 18 at its meeting Thursday afternoon.

Republican Sen. Stephen West is the sponsor of SB 25. The State and Local Government Committee voted 8-1 in favor of the proposal over the objections of housing advocates. They fear it will increase discrimination against renters trying to use Section 8.

West and the advocates who spoke at the meeting disagreed over whether the bill would also nullify a non-discrimination ordinance already on the books in Louisville and one currently being considered in Lexington.

West told the Senate committee Wednesday that his goal in proposing SB 25 was to ensure property rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, remain protected.

“We want to protect property owners, we want to protect landlords and ensure that the value of their property is maintained and that they are able to offer housing to their tenants in a reasonable fashion,” he said.

West said the bill would prevent local governments across the state from requiring landlords participate in the federal government’s Section 8 program. Landlords who agree to accept Section 8 vouchers are subject to property inspections, which could lead to them having to pay for required upgrades or repairs. The bill also emphasizes that property owners have the right to evict tenants.

No city or county in Kentucky currently requires landlords to participate in the Section 8 voucher program, but housing advocates said SB 25 could impact other types of local laws.

In 2020, Louisville Metro expanded its fair housing ordinance with bipartisan support. It bans source-of-income discrimination, meaning landlords in Louisville can’t refuse to consider someone just because they want to use a Section 8 voucher or receive other types of government assistance.

Members of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council have debated a similar ordinance over the past year. Council Member Shayla Lynch spoke in opposition to SB 25 at Wednesday’s hearing. She said even if the proposed bill wouldn’t affect local fair housing laws, it “perpetuates discrimination.”

“What will occur, I can tell you confidently, will be displacement,” Lynch said. “Immediately, landlords who are willing to accept housing subsidies … will move to evict those tenants, and our housing crisis will only get worse in Lexington.”

George Eklund, director of education and advocacy at the Coalition for the Homeless in Louisville, also expressed concern that SB 25 would allow landlords to “just deny Section 8 straight out.”

“We are not mandating that a landlord has to charge certain rents,” he said. “[Louisville’s fair housing law] is really just about letting someone start the conversation about maybe renting with them.”

No property owners spoke at the committee meeting in support of SB 25.

In response to the opposition, West said he recognizes that there is a housing crisis. He said he thinks his bill may not conflict with the non-discrimination ordinances contemplated by Lexington and passed by Louisville Metro.

The Kentucky League of Cities is opposing SB 25 on the basis that it’s an attempt by the General Assembly to preempt local governments.

The next step for SB 25 is for the full Senate to take up the bill. If it’s approved, the bill will go over to the House of Representatives for their approval.

This story was updated to correct a typographical error.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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