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Milwaukee County considering closing fair housing loophole

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee County Board is considering closing a fair housing loophole that allows landlords to deny renting to those who are on government rental assistance.

County Board Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic introduced a proposal that would ban rent assistance discrimination, Wisconsin Public Radio reported .

The city's open housing ordinance, which was enacted more than 50 years ago, bans discrimination based on race, sex or religion. But property owners can legally refuse those on rent assistance.

Almost 1,800 residents receive vouchers, said Pooja Dhaliwal, the program manager for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program in Milwaukee County. Voucher recipients have 120 days to find housing.

Housing advocates say program restrictions and landlords' reluctance to rent to Section 8 tenants make it hard for renters.

Chandra Williams enrolled in the housing program about a decade ago after she was diagnosed with breast cancer while homeless. Finding landlords that accept Section 8 housing was difficult, she said.

"Some people said, 'Oh, we don't accept rent assistance and it's hard to get them out.' I'm like, 'OK,' so I move to the next unit," Williams said. "'We don't accept rent assistance.' 'No rent assistance.' It was really, really hard."

Landlords say they've had trouble getting reimbursed for damage Section 8 tenants have done to their units.

Section 8 recipients are also capped by neighborhood, which puts landlords and other renters at a disadvantage, said Ron Hegwood, a landlord and president of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin.

"We all want to live where we want to live but if you can't afford to live there, you have to go with the choices you have," he said. "I mean you're putting in a law to create a protected class at everyone else's expense and I think that's wrong."

The association will lobby state legislators if the ordinance gets passed, Hegwood said.

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