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Michigan Democrats target income discrimination in affordable housing push

Michigan Democrats want to bar landlords from rejecting prospective tenants who would pay rent with Section 8 vouchers or other forms of assistance. Conservatives are concerned. (Shutterstock)
  • Michigan plan would bar landlords from denying prospective renters because they use Section 8 housing vouchers or other public assistance
  • Democrats, housing advocacy groups are backing the legislation but Republicans are concerned about ramifications for landlords
  • Joint package cleared the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday

A plan from Michigan Democrats would bar most landlords from turning away tenants based on the source of income they use to pay rent, a concept that has gained traction in other states but faces stiff opposition from conservatives here. 

Advocates for the change say low-income residents who qualify for some form of assistance — including federal Section 8 housing vouchers, Social Security, child support, unemployment, disability or veterans benefits — are bearing the brunt of Michigan’s affordable housing shortage as demand outpaces stock and prices skyrocket. 

But critics contend the plan would be unfair to landlords. 

Under House and Senate bills pending in the Michigan Legislature, landlords who own at least five rental units could not deny or discourage prospective tenants from signing a lease because they plan to use housing assistance or other benefits to help cover the rent. 

If found in violation, landlords would be on the hook for a fine up to three times the monthly rent of the unit in question.


Michigan’s Democratic-led Senate approved an early version of the bills last fall along partisan lines. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee moved an amended package to the House floor, a key step in getting the legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for potential signature. 

The legislative push comes as Michigan lawmakers look to address housing shortages, particularly for lower-income workers. The Whitmer administration is already working to spend nearly $1.4 billion in state and federal funding allocated for various affordable housing initiatives. 

Michigan’s statewide vacancy rate for housing units available for rent or sale decreased from 4.2% in 2011 to 1.9% in 2021. For the latter year, state data shows only 62% of rental homes were affordable to households earning less than 60% of their region’s median income.


Because a prospective renter’s income sources aren’t protected by state or federal law, landlords in most Michigan cities are allowed to refuse voucher recipients and others with income subsidies, making finding affordable housing even more complicated for vulnerable residents, Lisa Chapman of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness recently told the House Judiciary Committee. 

“Vouchers and other forms of rental assistance can be a lifeline for people who are trying to get back on their feet,” Chapman told lawmakers. “However, the program only works when landlords are willing to rent to voucher holders.”

Opponents of the legislation maintain that landlords shouldn’t be forced to accept federal vouchers absent a federal law requiring them to do so. 


The legislation “will do nothing to improve our state’s housing crisis and will only make it harder for landlords to do business in our state,” Sen. Jonathan Lindsey, an Allen Republican, said before an October vote in the upper chamber. 

“This will discourage people from becoming landlords at all, ultimately making our housing crisis worse,” Lindsey predicted. 

State-level source of income protections have become more popular nationally in recent years. According to the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, at least 18 states currently prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income. 

In Michigan, at least 14 cities provide local source of income protections, including Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Lansing, according to the advocacy group Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit.

Supporters for taking the concept statewide include the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the real estate company Zillow, as well as a slew of advocacy groups. 

Brad Ward of the Michigan Realtors trade group said his organization isn’t taking sides on the issue so long as House and Senate bills are aligned. He called Section 8 a “great program” but one that creates extra hurdles for landlords. 

“The program is broken at the federal level, and changes need to be made there,” he said. 

To become law, the amended package would need to pass the House and Senate and get a signature from Whitmer. 

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