Housing advocates push Phoenix to address landlords' income discrimination

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, February 2, 2023 - 7:25pm
Updated: Friday, February 3, 2023 - 9:17am

Speakers at Phoenix City Council meeting
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Speakers at Phoenix City Council meeting on Feb. 2, 2023, ask leaders to pass an ordinance banning landlords from refusing a rental application based on "source of income."

Housing advocates want Phoenix to ban landlords from discriminating against renters who get public assistance.

During Wednesday’s Phoenix City Council meeting, Miesha Fish stood at a podium in front of the mayor and eight members, took a deep breath and shared her story.

“I’m a Social Security recipient. I’m 50 years old, autistic and a widow,” she said.

Fish said she spent more than three years living in cheap hotels and on the street before she could secure vouchers to cover rent.

“Being on the streets, I would carry what I could manage in a backpack–bedding, belongings–in bushes only to return to find everything gone,” she said. “Even my husband’s ashes were stolen.”

More than 15,000 Phoenix residents are on a waiting list for housing vouchers. Those who get them often struggle to find landlords willing to rent to them. 

Dana Burns, founder of Permanent Voicer Foundation, works with seniors in south Phoenix.

“I’m asking for some help for some vulnerable population of people who really indeed need a voice,” she said.

Sebastian Del Portillo, an organizer with Unemployed Workers United, wants Phoenix to copy Tucson.

“Last year Tucson passed this ordinance to stop landlords from discriminating against renters on a fixed income, right, including people with Section 8 vouchers, folks on other types of public assistance, disability,” he said.

But Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma complained Tucson’s ordinance violated state law and then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich agreed. Brnovich cited a 1992 state law that gave certain cities and towns the power to enact local fair housing ordinances. However, Brnovich stated, “that statute and several others said local fair housing ordinances had to be passed ‘no later than Jan. 1, 1995.'"

Last week, Phoenix leaders sent a letter supporting Tucson’s ordinance to the current AG, Kris Mayes. 

”People are moving to Phoenix at a higher rate than anywhere else,” Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement to KJZZ News. “We have a lot of space, but we also have a lot of demand, and we are looking at all possible solutions to provide attainable housing opportunities. This will take all hands on deck. I look forward to creating a policy that meets the guidance of our Attorney General’s Office.”

Mayes’ spokesperson told KJZZ News the matter is being reviewed. Mayes sent this letter to Toma.

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