The Flagler County Commission on Dec. 2 is expected to hear a proposal to revise the county’s fair housing ordinance, which hasn’t been revised in 30 years.
The existing ordinance was progressive for its time, prohibiting discrimination based on gender, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, familial status or national origin. And an expansive reading of the terms would not necessarily require them to be further specified: discrimination based on “sex” could mean discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, not merely one’s biological sex.
But the language of decades-old anti-discrimination ordinances and laws of the sort are again in question: the U.S. Supreme Court this term will decide a case that hinges on the definition of “sex.” So clarifying decades-old language and adding new language to reflect contemporary concerns is driving the latest revisions. In Flagler, the revisions would also better align the county with its new focus on affordable housing, says Sandra Shanks, who chairs the county’s Affordable Housing Committee, where the new ordinance was drafted.
The proposed revisions would further specify prohibitions against discrimination based on sex, including “sexual orientation” (meaning gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and so on) and including gender identity (meaning transgender people or people who don;t identiofy with one sex or another). The housing ordinance would thus become Flagler’s first ordinance to specify all LGBTQ individuals as a protected class.
The proposed revisions would also add protection status for veterans and would make discrimination based on anyone’s source of income illegal. That means landlords could not prohibit someone from renting just because that tenant has a Section 8 voucher–or if the tenant’s income is derived from Social Security or disability income.
And the revisions would create new but limited protections for people with criminal issues, or people who have been the victims of domestic violence.
“Everybody has to have a place to live, so how do we provide everybody a place to live without violating a basic right and protecting the citizenry?” Shanks says. “The goal of this ordinance is to make people aware of fair housing, to make tenants aware of their protections from certain discrimination and to make property managers aware that blanket policies. By having blanket policies they can expose themselves to a fair housing violation as well.”
Such blanket, discriminatory policies by landlords and property managers are not uncommon, says Ralston Reodica, the county’s State Housing Initiative Partnership administrator. That’s what the “source of income” protection in the proposed ordinance is intended to address. “Source of income is a big one because a lot of property managers and owners say, No Section 8,” Reodica says. “So that’s what we’re trying to do: you can’t discriminate based on the source of income, whether it’s disability income, a Section 8 voucher, other forms of non-traditional income. We’ve seen in the ads, it’s explicit: ‘No Section 8.’ How is that legal?”
The proposal’s wording regarding “victims of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking” has drawn particular attention, especially from Trish Giaccone, who directs the Family Life Center, the county’s shelter for victims of sexual and physical violence.
When the affordable housing committee voted on the proposed ordinance in October, the language did not include protections for victims of domestic violence. That means a landlord could evict a person, even a victim, whose issues with domestic violence are perceived as disruptive or dangerous to neighbors. Giaccone says that sort of thing does happen.
The day after the provision’s rejection at the affordable housing committee, Giaccone appeared before the Public Safety Coordinating Council–the monthly gathering of law enforcement, judicial, social service and county officials–to decry the possibility that the county could be approving an updated anti-discrimination ordinance without protection for victims of domestic violence.
“It’s sad to know that in our community, there are landlords who will not rent to victims of domestic violence, because they don’t want that potential issue of crime, of disruption to the other neighbors,” Giaccone said, describing how victims will not call 911 for fear of attracting undue attention to themselves in their housing complex. “And the reality is, we are not supporting survivors if we’re saying that, we’re not supporting victims who come forward. So they’re not reaching out to law enforcement, because they don’t want cop cars in the front because they don’t want the neighbors to know, because they don’t want to have issues of staying in that home or having to find another home.”
Giaccone continued: “So I implore you if you are a landlord in this community, please consider that, consider who you’re renting to, and recognize that families that have just left the situation are looking for independence and they need our help. They’re going to pay rent. It’s just we don’t want them discriminated against because of this situation. Particularly when we have protections in place for criminal history. If we’re going to protect those with criminal histories, it would only be right to protect victims, to be equitable.”
Since the October meeting of the housing committee, however, the proposed language of the ordinance has been changed–apparently, despite the vote of the committee saying otherwise–and does include protection for victims of domestic violence. If that’s the version going before the County Commission, Giaccone said today, she’s supportive of the ordinance. “I was sent a draft and in the draft he’s included it,” she said, referring to the inclusion of protection for victims. Otherwise, Giaccone said she intends to make her voice heard before the commission when the item is up for a pair of hearing, possibly as earl;y as Dec. 2 for a first reading.
Ironically, Shanks says, the 1990 ordinance was not in need of vast revisions. “Considering that Flagler County was the last county to integrate in the state of Florida, we were very impressed with the fact that the housing ordinance was as progressive as it is,” Shanks said. “This document from 1990 is extremely valuable but it was hidden. It was hidden. And so I think that as a result of us revisiting it, we’re bringing to light something that can continue to place Flagler County on the map of sorts.” She said the county is “continuing to move in a more progressive direction” with housing affordability. “So when we sat down to revisit it we really didn’t have to add a lot. We just specified some things a little bit more.”
Shanks stressed that absent these revisions, the county won’t be able to pull off its hopes of addressing affordable housing and homelessness more comprehensively and fairly.
The Realist says
No matter what always run a credit check if you rent a house out. I had an experience where I allowed some people who were getting rental subsidy assistance through a religious group to rent from me. Don’t you know that these animals destroyed the house…costing me a couple of thousand to repair. I have found that the more people get handed the less they have regards for others property. So they can make all the laws they want, as long as a bad credit rating (usually under 620) keeps people from buying houses, cars etc. it will protect your property investment and allow you to “just say no”. Keep in mind that sometimes bad credit can be for reasons out of peoples control like medical bills. You should take that into consideration when determining if you want to accept that tenant. You can also look at their debt to income ratio to further determine if they are a viable tenant prospect.
They should include a contingency clause that states that anyone convicted of domestic violence cannot live on the premises of any government procured housing unit. Sorry, but the reality is, a whole lot of victims of domestic violence take their abusers back. Domestic abusers know how to hone in on the weak and take advantage of the victim benefits received by their opportune targets.
Palm Coast Resident says
There are statistics that demonstrate housing availability often leaves victims without the resources to avoid their perpetrators and that they are mostly attempting to AVOID the perpetrator. The stigma that they return is exactly why housing rights protections for them is so important. If they have a hard time getting away, the abusers find ways to manipulate them, especially if the victims find themselves living out of a car.
May I ask why former Law Officers whom have PTSD are not included?? Flagler live can you please look into this?
Concerned Citizen says
One thing that has me curious is the age restricted communities. How do those coincide with The Fair Housing Act?
Before purchasing my place out in the country a lot of my options were limited due to age barriers.
At 49 and as a veteran who retired out of Public Safety I am prohibited from living in a nice community because it’s 55 and up. Now I don’t expect privlidges because of my background at all. Just wondering how age restrictions are fair.
Clark W Griswold says
To the Realist, can I have your phone number? I would like to hire you as my Financial advisor! I have a 505 credit score and I do attend church, which is where I met my Lover!! can you make an exception for us?
We promise to pay on time and not move our friends in.
So now they will force me to place a tenant being chased by a violent stalker in an apartment next to a widowed senior. What’s next, pedophiles among families with children?
Palm Coast Resident says
That’s a valid concern! Unfortunately for the victim, it’s a dreadful concern.
Call law enforcement on the perpetrator! File an injunction. The person staking should be the one who sees the discipline, NOT the victim. If your tenant is not violating the lease, but someone ELSE is disturbing the peace and enjoyment of the other tenants, then do what you need to get law enforcement involved against that person. The person doing scary things should be the one whose privileges are limited, not victims.
As to the pedophile statement, exercise your rights to protect the safety of the tenants. You wouldn’t bar a victim of child abuse from living in your rental for fear they could attract perpetrators. Victims of domestic violence should receive the same benefit.
Alphonse Abonte says
Established in 1968, the Fair Housing Act protects homebuyers and renters from discrimination based on seven different areas: race, color, sex, national origin, religion, familial status, and disability. Age is not a protected class under the federal Fair Housing Act.
Many states do have their own fair housing laws which include additional protected classes such as marital status, sexual orientation, and ancestry. Under these laws, each state can also allow for age protection, which would begin at a defined age, but most do not prevent communities from being exclusive to older adults as they recognize the benefit of senior housing programs.
Mike Cocchiola says
I applaud, wholeheartedly, this proposed revision to Flagler’s Fair Housing ordnance. It’s is unfortunate that such specific protections are necessary, but they are. I urge the Flagler County BOCC to approve the revision.
Palm Coast Resident says
Please find a way to pay attention to the agendas for the B.O.C.C meeting and attend!