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Housing Discrimination Bill For Federal Renter's Assistance And Domestic Violence Stirs Controversy

The New Hampshire House is slated to vote this week on a bill to prevent housing discrimination. Renters who pay with federal subsidy vouchers, known as Section 8, and victims of domestic abuse would receive new protections.

As anyone who’s ever rented an apartment knows, finding a place to live can be a pain. You put your best foot forward with the landlord, fill out the paperwork, hope for the best. But for some people, it’s harder than that.

“Landlords throughout the state are straightforward in advertising that they simply don’t accept people who have Section 8 assistance.”

That’s Elliott Berry with New Hampshire Legal Assistance. He says that the whole point of Section 8 was to help people get out of bad situations and bad neighborhoods. But without legal protection, that doesn’t always happen.

He points to a client named Myra Mullens. She’d left an abusive husband, but struggled to find an apartment she felt safe in with a landlord who would accept a Section 8 voucher.

“The only section 8 apartments she could find that were offered to her, were in neighborhoods that she did not feel safe in and she ended up forfeiting the rental assistance.”

But such stories don’t persuade everyone. Rep. Joseph Hagan of Chester sits on the committee that heard the bill. The Republican says it would set a bad precedent.

“Everybody’s going to be in a protected class, and then it will be meaningless. We felt this trivialized people who have really been discriminated against for race, religion, etc.”

And Hagan says that’s not the only problem. He says more tenants paying with federal aid, means more paperwork for landlords. He also claims Section 8 tenants lead to higher insurance premiums.

“This doesn’t have a big impact on the big guys. Making it tougher on the little guy is what we’re concerned about. The little landlord.”

(BC) “I just haven’t seen the issue brought up by insurance companies in that way.”

Bill Caselden supports the bill. He’s also a principal at Great Bridge Properties. It owns 275 units in the state. He says roughly a third of his tenants use Section 8.

His company runs criminal and credit checks on prospective tenants, and he says those methods work and they’ll still be allowed if this bill passes.

“So it’s really just not allowing managers and property owners to create a—I guess what you’d call a check the box kind of denial—on people.”

But this bill is about more than just Section 8. It also would prohibit discrimination against renters who are victims of domestic violence and stalking.

The bill’s sponsor, Manchester Democrat Pat Long, says he hoped this part of the bill would unite people.

“You know, I don’t think it’s that farfetched to want to protect victims, allowing them to get a place where they can live and not be discriminated against because there’s a perception or a possibility that the perpetrator may be back.”

But it’s proven controversial. New Hampshire Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence declined to comment on the record about the bill to NHPR.

Republicans and some landlords, meanwhile, have raised objections that, as drafted, this bill is too loose. Specifically, it would allow a simple complaint to trigger protection.

Backers of the bill say they will introduce an amendment during floor debate to tighten the definition of victims by requiring a final protective order from a judge. 

Note:  This story was updated from its original version. 

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