Tucson Banned Income-Based Housing Discrimination. Will Phoenix?

Activists rally outside of Phoenix City Hal on Feb. 1, 2023. (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

By Jessica Swarner

February 15, 2023

“We cannot bear to lose more of our community—our fathers, our mothers, our grandmothers and elders—to a cruel, ineffective system.” 

Activists with Unemployed Workers United, Poder in Action, Fuerte AZ, Mass Liberation Arizona, and other groups are calling on Phoenix City Council to ban housing discrimination based on source of income. 

A fair housing ordinance would prohibit landlords from turning down a renter because they receive public assistance, like housing vouchers. 

“We are demanding that the mayor and the council not only put this on the agenda, they vote on it, but they actually make a commitment to housing justice,” Carla Naranjo with Unemployed Workers United told The Copper Courier. 

Tucson City Council unanimously passed an ordinance like this in September, although former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the ordinance violated state law. 

All members of Phoenix City Council except Councilmember Jim Waring signed on to a letter asking new AG Kris Mayes to reconsider the decision. 

Activists attended the Phoenix City Council meeting on Feb. 1 to bring awareness to the issue of people receiving government assistance being unable to find a landlord willing to accept them. They said they planned to continue attending the meetings until action is taken. 

How the System Works

Families who fall into certain income limits can apply for a Section 8 voucher, and they often have to wait years to receive one. According to the Arizona Republic, in August there were over 16,000 people on Phoenix’s three-to-five-year waitlist. 

Once someone finally gets a voucher, they typically have two to four months to find somewhere to use it. The vouchers can expire before someone can find an affordable place to live with a landlord who will accept one. Getting removed from the waitlist can mean being once again years away from having a stable place to live. 

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A 2018 Johns Hopkins study found that landlords’ prejudices against people using vouchers—as well as the bureaucracy of the program, including required yearly inspections—turned some of them away from participating.

If a person does find a place that will accept the voucher, they pay about 30% of their income toward rent while the federal government subsidizes the rest. A family continues to receive that subsidy for as long as their income stays the same. 

If the income goes up, they still pay 30%, which means the amount they pay goes up, and the subsidy goes down to account for the adjusted income. If their income drops, the government can step in to make up the difference.

Keeping People on the Streets

Phoenix resident Yvonne Rubino told the council about her mother, who Rubino said died from chronic illness exacerbated by homelessness while trying to find a place to accept her voucher. 

“I’m here sharing her story because her life was shortened due to a lack of community resources available to those who find themselves homeless,” Rubino said. 

Rubino said she, her mother, and her son all lost their jobs and housing during the COVID-19 pandemic—but while Rubino and her son recovered, her mother became chronically homeless. 

Rubino said once her mother received a voucher, she made “hundreds of phone calls” and visited properties but couldn’t find anyone to accept it. 

“She would use her Social Security income to pay for hotel rooms which amounted to approximately eight days,” Rubino said. “She panhandled daily to keep her room.”

Rubino said she and her family paid $7,000 to try to help her mom stay housed for a couple of months, until her mom’s health worsened and she ended up in an emergency room. Rubino said her mom was moved to a short-term rehabilitation facility and died two weeks later. 

“We cannot bear to lose more of our community—our fathers, our mothers, our grandmothers and elders—to a cruel, ineffective system,” Rubino said.

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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