After 25 Years, Chicago Landlords Continue Rampant Illegal Discrimination Against Section 8 Vouchers

Under Chicago law, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against families who pay all or part of their rent using Housing Choice Vouchers – most commonly referred to as “Section 8.” But a new report shows that thousands of listings for rental properties in the city blatantly disregard the 25-year-old law, showing bias against low-income, minority residents. 

An analysis of Chicago and suburban Cook County Craigslist ads by WBEZ found thousands of listings posted in June that declared “not Section 8,” “No Section 8,” “not a Section 8 building,” and “no vouchers.”

The listings illustrate how some landlords openly break Chicago’s 1990 Fair Housing Ordinance on discriminating against those using federally subsidized vouchers. The program is intended to help low-income families, the elder and disabled pay for housing on the private rental market.

The Chicago Housing Authority, which administers Section 8 in Chicago, provides housing vouchers to nearly 43,000 households each year. Nearly 88% of these voucher holders are black.

While the Fair Housing Ordinance went into effect in Chicago nearly 25 years ago, a similar protection wasn’t enacted in all of Cook County until 2013.

Of the more than 2,800 Craigslist housing ads posted for Chicago and Cook County in June, WBEZ found an average of four to five included outright discrimination against consumers using Section 8. In Cook County, 25% of the ads that mentioned Section 8 were found to be discriminatory.

Although discriminatory postings were common among Craigslist ads, WBEZ also found some that were welcoming to Section 8 vouchers. Only many of those were found in low-income, high-poverty areas of the city. In fact, seven neighborhoods with the greatest number of pro-voucher ads were all on the city’s South Side and have poverty rates above 25%, WBEZ reports.

The discrimination wasn’t just reserved for Craigslist ads. One prospective renter tells WBEZ that she had hoped to use her voucher to move her family to Chicago’s North Side where she saw it as more diverse and safe.

“I’ve had some [landlords] that come straight out and tell me, ‘We’ve had negative experiences with voucher-holders destroying units before, and we’re not currently accepting vouchers,’” she said.

When searching on her own didn’t provide any leads, the woman turned to an agency, where she was advised to discontinue her search on that side of town.

“He said, ‘Well, you know what, I’m going to be really honest with you, on the North Side, they really don’t particularly like voucher holders,’” she tells WBEZ.

While it’s against the law for those landlords to discriminate against voucher holders, the agency tasked with enforcing the ordinance simply doesn’t have the manpower to do so.

Joann Newsome, director of Human Rights Compliance for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, says that in her 12 years with the agency the number of investigators who can look into violations has dropped from seven to three. The Commission currently averages about 70 complaints a year.

WBEZ contacted many of the people who posted the discriminatory Craigslist ads. While some didn’t want to provide comment, a majority simply said they were unaware of the law.

“I don’t think there’s any law that illegalizes [sic] rejection of Section 8,” one landlord said.

Newsome says that some smaller outfit might not know about the law, but most of the bigger ones know the rules.

“The average person just wants income property,” she said. “The average person probably doesn’t even look into housing laws.”

Section 8 voucher holders face blatant discrimination on Craigslist [WBEZ]