Source of income discrimination -- let's end it
In the age of coronavirus and with an economy on the brink of catastrophe, none of us can afford to turn our noses up at government aid. Many were happy to receive those checks in the mail last year. And I am sure we all know at least one of the more than one million people that have applied for unemployment assistance in Illinois since March.
All this money has kept us safer and has kept the economy running in our state. Even Illinois went as far as issuing a moratorium on evictions, showing that no one should be evicted and lose everything just because of temporary economic hardship. Illinois then went even further and dedicated $150 million of its CARES Act funds to stabilize the rental housing market and prevent another foreclosure crisis.
Yet, housing advocates have heard countless stories of landlords who would not participate in the Illinois Housing Development Authority's Emergency Rental Assistance program due to concerns about this new government aid program. But this is nothing new in Illinois. Potential renters have been turned away for decades simply because of where their money comes from. A 2018 study conducted by the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights detected source of income discrimination in 49% of their investigations.
Only six communities in Illinois have ordinances protecting against this kind of discrimination -- Chicago, Cook County, Harwood Heights, Naperville, Urbana, and Wheeling. In the rest of Illinois, it is legal for a landlord to refuse to accept government aid to cover rent payments, a practice known as source of income discrimination.
This discrimination inhibits many programs intended to maintain a resilient economy by ensuring program participants have stable access to safe and healthy housing. For example, Housing Choice Voucher and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing programs -- which together partially cover rent for approximately 85,000 Illinois households -- are inhibited by source of income discrimination.
But it is not just government assistance programs being denied; some applicants are denied because of income from child support, alimony, Social Security Disability, and a variety of other benefits.
Illinois must join the 12 other states that have already prohibited source of income discrimination. The Illinois Human Rights Act asserts housing is a human right protected by law. All residents of the state should be able to exercise that right and live wherever they choose so long as they meet the landlord's reasonable eligibility criteria and can afford the rent.
Source of income protections strive to remove the stigma that comes with economic hardship. The recessions of the past two decades have shown anyone can fall on hard times, so no one should be discriminated against because of their legal source of income. There is no reason to discriminate against an otherwise qualified applicant who is willing and able to pay.
Applicants should not be turned away simply because they work full-time without earning a living wage, or because they are a single parent struggling to make ends meet, or because they are among the over one million Illinoisans who applied for unemployment assistance in 2020 and depend on government aid.
Source of income legislation at the state level would protect all Illinoisans from suffering because they take home the "wrong kind" of income.
Homelessness cannot be the result of some landlords' opinions on a legal source of income. The pandemic and economic hardships of 2020 have served to emphasize a growing problem in the state.
Housing is a human right. This issue rises above the partisan divide. The time has come for Illinois to better protect its residents and pass source of income protections statewide.
• Evelyn Sanguinetti is former Republican Illinois lieutenant governor and executive director of HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton.