WI County Becomes 2nd Place in the Country to Expand Housing Rights to Immigrants
MADISON – On Thursday night the Dane County Board voted 20-12 to support a series of fair housing ordinance amendments which will expand the county enforcement mechanism, increase fines to landlords who discriminate, and expand protected classes to include social security disclosure for undocumented immigrants, gender identity and expression, as well as closing off a loophole to end discrimination against people with conviction records. Lead by Downtown Madison County Supervisors Ashok Kumar and Supervisor Paul Rusk the ordinance revisions are the product of the Fair Housing Subcommittee, which has been working on the changes for the past few years.
“The Fair Housing Package includes sweeping reforms intended to actually protect the rights of marginalized people and hold unscrupulous landlords accountable,” said Supervisor Ashok Kumar, one of the members of the Fair Housing Subcommittee who drafted the ordinance. “This law changes our existing ordinance by protecting immigrants, ex-offenders, and transgender people, it also allows our lawyers to actually go after landlords who violate the law, and finally it substantially increases fines to landlords who break the law.”
Currently, the county plays the role of an arbitrator between tenant and landlord, the revised enforcement mechanism allows the county corporation counsel to investigate claims and seek injunctive relief, damages and forfeitures. Also, the fines are presently at $2,500, 10,000, and 25,000 for first, second, and third violations, respectively. The new ordinance increases those numbers to 10,000, 25,000, and 50,000 and allows for damages to be paid to the aggrieved person.
Alex Gillis from the Immigrant Workers Union (UTI) stated the group’s strong support for the ordinance; “This law will finally accomplished the goal of protecting our residents from discrimination. Immigrants and other oppressed people are hardworking members of the Dane County community and decent and accessible housing is a right we deserve, hopefully this will take us one step closer to that”. The social security disclosure amendment will benefit documented and undocumented residents of Dane County as well as people with resident alien on non-work visas, such as students, and any person seeking to keep their social security number confidential. Gillis continued, “This actively confronts the discriminatory laws that have recently passed in Green Bay, WI that penalizes landlords who house undocumented immigrants. With the passage of this ordinance Dane County becomes the first county and second place in the country to pass a law to protect undocumented immigrants from housing protection.”
“Currently the law allows landlords to discriminate against persons with a criminal record by citing their personal ‘fears” said Linda Ketchum, Executive Director of the Madison-area Urban Ministry, “This ordinance ends the existing loophole and states that landlords must accept the tenant unless they are a registered sex offender or have been out of prison for less the two years.”
This Ordinance accomplishes the following:
Ensures Housing Rights For Undocumented Immigrants, Transgender People, and People with Conviction Records,
Expands Authority of County Lawyers to Hold Landlords Accountable, and Triples the Fines to Discriminatory Landlords