In Seattle, it’s against the law for a landlord to reject a tenant based on the source of their income. But those kind of protections don’t extend to many cities in South King County, cities like Kent, SeaTac and Renton.
Here are three women trying to change that.
Toya Thomas, Michelle Dozier and Elimika James had a lot in common: They all live in the Renton Woods apartment complex. They’re all single mothers who pay part of their rent with Section 8 vouchers from the U.S. government. But they did not know each other until they received eviction letters.
Elimika James still remembers that day.
James: “When I first saw that notice, I was scared. Because what I immediately thought was: homelessness. That was it. We were about to be homeless.”
Then the women noticed another thing they had in common – the people being evicted were minorities, mostly black, and the people moving in were white families.
What the women did next brought them together.
Dozier: “I guess you gave the fliers out to her?”
Thomas: “Yeah, I was walking out to get the fliers.”
James: “We just recently met everybody. Just recently.”
Thomas: “We really bonded. We kind of became like a family since we were all becoming victims of this issue.”
The issue is not that they couldn’t pay higher rents. All three women say if they’d gotten a rent increase, they could have gotten a bigger voucher to take care of it. But Renton Woods management told me in a statement that participation in the Section 8 program was voluntary, and Renton Woods no longer wanted to accept Section 8 money.
That didn’t sit right with tenant Michelle Dozier.
Dozier: “You know, I think that’s discrimination. That’s just how I feel about it.”
But whether or not Dozier liked it, the action was legal. And it’s quite common, according to Leland Jones. He’s with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department. They pay for the Section 8 program.
Jones: “In a booming market, Section 8 is not always as attractive a source of income as the opportunity to earn more from the people who are not getting a subsidy.”
But a growing number of cities are outlawing discrimination based on source of income. The women at Renton Woods want Renton to join the trend.
Here’s tenant Michelle Mozier again.
Mozier: “I hate that it had to happen like this where everybody got to know each other by going through this right here. But at the same time, maybe it is a good thing, because black African women need to stick up for what’s right.”
The Tenants Union has been helping the women negotiate.
Management responded by tacking an extra month onto the tenants' leases and giving them $1,000 to help with relocation costs.
In Renton, I’m Joshua McNichols, KUOW News.