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By Russ McQuaid

INDIANAPOLIS, In (November 30, 2014) — The City County Council will tackle two issues Monday night to provide more opportunity for low-income and homeless residents and expand the protections of one group while restricting the rights of another.

Proposal 215 would permit Section 8 housing voucher recipients to apply for any rental property in Marion County while Proposal 291 would extend basic rights protections to the homeless.

Ironically, the first proposal, while granting Section 8 recipients rights to more housing options, it would force landlords who have opted out of a voluntary federal housing reimbursement program in the past to accept subsidized tenants.

“If the good folks of Franklin Township say we don’t want to be involved in this program, we shouldn’t force the people of Franklin Township to do it,” said Councilman Aaron Freeman, a Republican and rental property owner. “There’s a Section 8 program and there are people that choose to be part of that program. That’s fine. We should not force people in their private life to be part of a government program.”

“Section 8 is the most common source of income that is denied housing,” said Amy Nelson of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana. “We released a study in November showing an 82% refusal rate for individuals on Section 8 in Marion County. In the majority white areas we found a 90% refusal rate and that is a lawful form of discrimination.”

Currently in Marion County 8,000 families participate in the Section 8 program.

Last month, 45,000 applicants signed up for a waiting list of 6,000.

1,000 new recipients are expected to be in subsidized housing by the end of the year.

“The person who gets a voucher they can use at a private rental facility pays up to about 30% of their income for their rent and then we subsidize the rest of the rent as long as that rent is reasonable,” said Rufus “Bud” Myers, Executive Director of the Indianapolis Housing Authority. “For a two bedroom unit we pay usually up to $750 a month according to what the average rents are in that area.”

That’s close to what rent goes for in central Indianapolis. Not so much in the townships where landlords list higher rents free from federal government oversight of a participation in a program that is currently voluntary.

“Then the recipients should go where they’re wanted, right?” asks Freeman. “Where they’re saying, ‘Come to us. We are participating in this program.’ We should not force people to be involved in a program that is voluntary in nature and certainly people can choose to be in it if they want to be in it, but we shouldn’t force them to be in a program in a mandatory basis.”

Supporters of the proposal argue that as long as the source of housing income is legal, potential tenants should not restricted to inner city neighborhoods where more landlords choose to participate in the Section 8 program because it guarantees them a steady source of income.

“Very often they’re forced back into the high poverty areas because that’s where they will be rented to,” said Nelson, who has lobbied on behalf of subsidized residents, “rather than being able to get into neighborhoods where they have an opportunity for the kids to get into better schools, better access to jobs, instead of getting out of poverty which is, for instance, the whole purpose of the Section 8 program.”

Freeman, who represents one of the townships that would be home to more potential low-income rental properties if the proposal passes, said a recipient who decides to participate in the Section 8 program and benefit from subsidized housing should assume their options are more limited than a tenant who has to compete in the open market and pay their own rent.

“Recipients shouldn’t be able to choose where they want to live,” he said. “If a program isn’t available somewhere you’re in a governmental program, you should have to go where that governmental program is accepted, not where it’s not.”

Even if both proposals pass, opening up options and protections for low-income renters and the homeless but restricting the rights of landlords, the ordinances would be subject to veto by Mayor Ballard.