‘Effectively dead,’ housing discrimination laws in Louisville, Lexington fall to veto override

Published 11:33 am Thursday, March 7, 2024

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By Liam Niemeyer
Kentucky Lantern

The GOP-dominated Kentucky legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill targeting local source-of-income discrimination bans just a day after the governor had issued the veto.

House Bill 18, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, immediately became law Wednesday because of an emergency clause in the bill.

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In a gathering with reporters, Dotson said he believed ordinances passed by Louisville and Lexington, aimed at stopping discrimination by landlords based on a tenant’s source of income, were effectively dead.

“There was nothing discriminatory about this measure,” Dotson said. “It was only to protect property rights, and no one should be forced to do business with the government.”

Beshear in a statement said discrimination should always be opposed, not enabled.

“The override of my veto hurts Kentuckians by allowing direct discrimination against those with disabilities, as well as our senior citizens, low-income families and homeless veterans,” Beshear said.

Senate President Robert Stivers rejected the assertion that HB 18 would make it harder for veterans and low-income Kentuckians to access housing and took a swipe at zoning and tax policies in the state’s two largest cities.

“We, the General Assembly, sets policy, and we, the General Assembly, have the power of the purse,” Stivers said. “The reality is the city of Louisville and the city of Lexington have a homeless problem directly related to their bad policies.”

Asked what policies in Louisville and Lexington he took issue with, Stivers pointed to zoning laws and property tax rates that “run developers out of the area.”

Stivers touted the veto override as the first of several in this year’s legislative session, HB 18 would prevent local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances requiring landlords to accept federal housing assistance vouchers from tenants for rent. Such assistance includes low-income housing assistance vouchers known as “Section 8” vouchers and vouchers that help homeless veterans.

Housing advocates have said local source-of-income discrimination bans do not force landlords to accept housing assistance vouchers, only that they can’t reject a prospective tenant solely on the use of vouchers to pay their rent. HB 18 preempts local source-of-income discrimination ban ordinances passed by Louisville in 2020 and another passed last month by Lexington.

Sen. Steve West, R-Paris, who sponsored a similar Senate bill whose elements were incorporated into HB 18, said he didn’t believe there was appetite among lawmakers to “completely do away with zoning or venture too far into local business,” referencing a Republican-sponsored House bill that would revamp local zoning laws to promote housing development.

West pointed to a bill by House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, that requires housing development plans to follow a set of “objective” standards so that property owners “know what they’re getting into” when setting out plans from community to community.

Housing advocates have called on the legislature to invest $200 million in state-run housing trust funds to tackle Kentucky’s affordable housing crisis, especially after natural disasters in recent years have depleted housing availability in Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.

Stivers said there’s been discussion with those in the private sector to find housing solutions but mentioned that funding for housing was “about timing and sequencing” with what housing developers can actually produce. Stivers asserted there isn’t enough housing development capacity to use hundreds of millions of dollars in a quick time frame.
Any housing funding the legislature approves would be “within the capacities of what individuals can actually produce during a biennial period,” Stivers said.

Adreinne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, told the Lantern that developers have been able to use $20 million allocated by the legislature to the Rural Housing Trust Fund in 2023.

She said she believed housing developers would be up to the task again.

That $20 million housing funding was allocated in March 2023, and the first home groundbreaking, thanks to that funding, took place in November 2023.

“That’s a really quick timeline,” Bush said. “We do have the capacity.”