Zillow announced an update to its mobile app Thursday that aids in the fight against rental discrimination, per a company press release.
Rentals listed on Zillow will now show whether or not they lie in a jurisdiction with local laws protecting renters from discrimination based on the use of Housing Choice Vouchers. The app also lists any local laws protecting renters who use veteran’s benefits or Social Security insurance payments to pay their rent.
The update expands Zillow’s Local Legal Protections tool, which was created in 2018 to help LGBT home searchers identify if their rights were protected by local laws in certain jurisdictions.
Christopher Roberts, Zillow senior vice president and general manager of Zillow Rentals, said 49.3% of rental listings in the country are located in areas that offer tenants protection against source of income or voucher discrimination.
Still, federal law does not prevent landlords from rejecting all housing vouchers.
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“By expanding Zillow’s Local Legal Protections tool, we are empowering renters and educating property owners about local voucher discrimination protections and hopefully removing a barrier for people shopping for a new place to call home,” Roberts said.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development attempted to crack down on landlord discrimination back in 2018. HUD Secretary Ben Carson established a “Landlord Task Force” that aimed to increase participation in the voucher program – the nation’s largest rental subsidy program used by more than 2 million low-income households to afford housing each year.
Zillow officials said there were nearly four times as many cost-burdened renter households – meaning the tenants were spending 50% or more of their income on housing – as there were vouchers available in the country in 2019.
“[The vouchers] are a crucial and underfunded form of assistance for low-income renters,” Roberts said. “The program has struggled to keep up with demand even more in markets such as Orlando, Austin, and Houston, where there are about 10 times as many severely cost-burdened renter households as there are vouchers.”
Data released by Zillow’s research team analyzed 303 counties in the 100 largest metropolitan areas with adequate rental price data. Roberts said that of those 303 counties, 44% saw market-rate rents rise more than voucher values from 2015 to 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil has not been kind to renters, either – the Community Housing Improvement Program said that New York landlords reported $1.14 billion in unpaid rent last week stemming from the 2020 health and economic crisis.
“These same renters have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roberts said. “The likelihood of job loss, on top of their existing higher housing cost burdens and lower incomes, means that renter households have borne the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the virus.”