Tempe Making a Bold Move Regarding Housing Discrimination: How Will This Work?

Photo Credit: city of Tempe website

In what should come as no surprise to local readers, Tempe has long been guided by left-of-center politics. A younger populace combined with a heavy concentration of those who earn a living within academia is nearly tailor made to foster a more liberal ethos within a city, and Tempe hasn’t historically shied away from this expectation. Its recent moves regarding housing fall well into the vein, but also have served to turn some heads and raised some eyebrows as well.

Tempe is poised to pass a new law that would ban landlords from denying prospective renters if they use housing assistance methods such as vouchers. This would turn subsidized renters into a protected class as it pertains to housing to some degree, much like non-discrimination rules related to race. While some of the concerns are likely hyperbolic and based on worst case scenarios, such as the squatter’s rights bills that have led to significant issues in some more progressive areas, clearly there are questions that have yet to be fully answered.

A few things can be true at once. One, the fact that someone is dependent on public assistance does not at all mean that they will be a bad tenant, and that that factor (public assistance) should not be a singular point for rejection. But two, the fact that someone using housing vouchers might be a poor tenant that doesn’t play by the rules and is clearly a bad tenant, and their economic status should not get in the way of that.

This also intersects with another major issue in the Valley: affordability. As rent in the area has increased a total of about 30% over the last three years, many people are being left behind, especially those on fixed incomes or even those for which their income is not keeping up with that 30% rate (which is significantly above inflation). It is nearly inevitable that more people will qualify for housing assistance, and amongst those who do not desire to attempt to build for a better tomorrow are those who do and are simply having trouble treading water.

There is also the question of legality: how enforceable is this? The city of Tempe seems reasonably sensitive to this particular issue, as they state that they plan to take a “soft” approach with landlords who violate the new rules, utilizing negotiation instead of immediately heavy-handed enforcement and potential referral to the City Attorney’s Office if non-compliance remains. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility of costly lawsuits in order to better define if it’s even within their capability.

Our state has thrived on a soft touch when it comes to regulation, and this flies in the face of that ethos. At the same time however, it does address a significant and growing issue. So perhaps while the law itself might not be ideal for those who prefer more laissez-faire policies, we need a use case in order to see how it plays out in real life, and for that reason alone Tempe might be doing the rest of the Valley a favor.