Chicago Tribune: Naperville approves requiring landlords to accept housing vouchers

Editor’s Note: CCH’s State Network co-founded the DuPage Homeless Alliance, which advocated for the voucher ordinance. 

By Genevieve Bookwalter

The Naperville City Council has approved requiring city landlords to accept federal housing vouchers as income when considering potential tenants.

The 5-4 vote Tuesday came after more than two hours of passionate arguments for and against the proposal from both from the audience and on the dais.

Councilman Kevin Gallaher gave emotional testimony of his experience with vouchers, not because of the council debate but because he was once close to applying for one. He voted in support of the proposal.

“Not that long ago I was flat on my back financially,” Gallaher said. “I was weeks away from having to participate in some government programs.

“I’ve probably done more research on this than any matter that’s come before council,” Gallaher said.

Others wondered if the issue was inviting government to overstep its reach, and proposed education — especially of the potential tax breaks — as a way to entice landlords to sign up voluntarily.

“Educate instead of expand the scope of government,” said Councilman Kevin Coyne, who voted against the measure.

Council members Gallaher, John Krummen, Rebecca Boyd-Obarski, Judy Brodhead and Becky Anderson voted in support of the measure. Coyne, Paul Hinterlong, Patty Gustin and Mayor Steve Chirico voted against.

Current city rules state that Naperville landlords cannot discriminate against potential renters based on income. The change approved Tuesday states that landlords must consider federal Housing Choice Vouchers as income and those vouchers cannot be the sole grounds to disqualify an applicant.

The change, however, would only require landlords to allow a voucher-holding resident to complete an application. If an applicant does not meet the landlord’s other standards — acceptable credit, for example — the landlord would not be required to accept that person.

Representatives from two of Naperville’s most prominent community groups, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation, spoke against and for the proposal, respectively.

Kenneth Coles, executive director of the DuPage Housing Authority, speaks to the Naperville City Council.
Kenneth Coles, executive director of the DuPage Housing Authority, speaks to the Naperville City Council.

“We encourage more landlords to participate voluntarily,” said Colin Dalough, speaking for the Naperville chamber, whose board voted against supporting the proposal.

“A landlord should be able to weigh both the positives and the negatives” before deciding whether to accept federal housing vouchers, Dalough said. The chamber would encourage education of members to teach them more bout the pros and cons of renting to tenants who hold the vouchers.

Bob Fischer, president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation, said his board unanimously voted to support the income proposal.

“The anti-discrimination moral fiber of this city is at stake,” Fischer said.

Meanwhile, North Central College student Johan Hendrickson said he participates in the voucher program, and called at least 20 places before he found a landlord that would consider accepting his voucher. He and his family, which includes a teenage son, live in a one-bedroom apartment because that’s all that was available to him as a voucher holder.

“Housing discrimination exists, even here in Naperville. I felt it first hand,” Hendrickson said.

Other Naperville residents were forward in their opposition.

“When I see this Section 8 stuff, it raises the hair on the back of my neck,” Naperville resident Michael Costello said. “We don’t want that here.”

About 2,900 vouchers have been issued in DuPage County, with about 2,700 are currently in use. Of those, 500 — or 18 percent — are being used in Naperville, according to statistics from the DuPage Housing Authority.

Ordinance supporters have stressed that they don’t want the ordinance to create a burden for landlords, a concern for some potential opponents. If another likely tenant came along, cash in hand, before a voucher-required property review is done, the landlord could rent to that person. If the improvements required during the review are too expensive for a landlord to do, he could skip the repairs and rent to another tenant without a voucher.