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Bills to combat housing discrimination heading to Whitmer

David Gales/David Gales -

Landlords would be barred from discriminating against tenants or prospective tenants who use housing vouchers or some other type of public assistance to pay the rent under bills adopted early Thursday by the Legislature.

The House gave final approval to the bills on party-line votes. Democrats in the majority say it should not matter whether the rent money comes from a paycheck, a subsidy or public assistance and that is especially true right now when housing is hard to find and expensive.

Representative Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor) said people deserve to be secure in their homes as long as they pay their bills.

“As we all know, Michigan and the nation at large are experiencing a housing crisis,” she said. “Affordable housing is harder and harder to come by and it is crucial that we protect tenants’ rights with regard to the income they are receiving.”

Under the bills, landlords who manage five or more rental units than could be sued by tenants who believe they’ve been the targets of discrimination. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights could also pursue penalties.

Republican Representative Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) said targeting landlords this way is the wrong approach. He said the problem is local zoning rules and other regulations that make building more expensive.

“If we can address the causes of homes being expensive,” he said, “then we can address the shortage because the only way to make housing really affordable is to make it abundant.”

The bills now go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her signature.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the new state budget that is also on its way to the governor includes new affordable housing initiatives.

“You’ll see a number of areas where we’re proposing to invest more in housing – whether that is supporting eviction prevention through more resources to legal aid or whether that’s a new investment in permanent supportive housing, you’re going to see a number of those across the budget.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.