Santa Monica City Hall's lobby. (Daniel Archuleta

No more “No Section 8” on rental listings in Santa Monica.

Council quickly and unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income, including Section 8 vouchers.

“You had asked for this ordinance because there had been some evidence both from members of the community and from city staff that work in our housing division that persons in the community were experiencing difficulty obtaining housing that seemed to be related to their source of income and that is particularly true of Section 8 tenants,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told council Tuesday night. “The ordinance that’s before you this evening would address that, provide a civil remedy, and would also increase the penalties in the city for housing discrimination.”

Neither federal nor California law prohibits discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders, Denise McGranahan, senior attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, told council.

This is because a court determined that Section 8 vouchers are not a source of income under California law.

Twelve states, nine counties and 18cities have outlawed discrimination against Section 8 tenants.

“Section 8 is one of the key ways housing is provided to low income tenants living on fixed incomes,” McGranahan said. “Without Section 8, these tenants might otherwise live on the streets, in shelters, or double up with relatives.”

The program, which is used by 2 million people, is plagued by discrimination, McGranahan told council.

Discrimination, she said, is worst in wealthier neighborhoods like Santa Monica.

“We see the refusal to accept Section 8 as a form of tenant harassment,” she said. “Private landlords often refuse to accept Section 8, even from their existing rent control tenants even though they could get more rent from section 8 than under rent control. They say no, assuming that long-term rent control tenants will vacate rather than lose their vouchers allowing owners to increase the rent to market.”

The ordinance would not require landlords to lower their rents to accommodate those who have Section 8 vouchers.

“Housing choices are limited due to two factors: Discrimination and the fact that vouchers do not allow tenants to pay market rent,” McGranahan said. “If the city obtains increased payment standards, this proposed law would help more people. Voucher holders who are not at the top of the city’s affordable housing wait list, lose their vouchers if they cannot locate affordable housing within 90 days. Many are forced to port to other cities, which is detrimental to the city’s Section 8 program.”

This type of discrimination, she said, furthers the segregation of neighborhood.

“Studies suggest that landlords discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders as a pretext for discriminating against minorities, disabled, and families with children,” McGranahan said. “These populations are over represented in the Section 8 program, including in Santa Monica, as compared to the general population.”

Those who violate the ordinance could be forced to pay between $1,000 and $10,000.

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