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One of the most exciting parts of the college experience is moving from living in a dorm to renting an off-campus house with friends. I just went through this process of finding what will be my home for the next two years. Landlords were eager to meet with a white female college student like myself. The only struggle I faced throughout this process was having too many options to choose from. I was privileged enough to be picky about what luxury items I wanted. Was there a garage? Was there a dishwasher? Was there more than one bathroom?

I was naïve enough to believe that this process was similar for everyone, showered with options and landlords trying to persuade you to pick their house. However, as I read more about housing inequity, I soon discovered that is not the case, especially in Connecticut

Although landlords in Connecticut cannot advertise that they are looking for specific ‘types’ of tenants, most of the landlords I encountered in Bridgeport made it known that they were looking for female students to occupy their homes. These landlords marketed their homes to students by posting in Sacred Heart student-specific Facebook groups. In addition, landlords would encourage my friends and I to market their house to other female groups looking for housing.

This happened to one of my friends: a landlord asked her to advertise the house to others, but when she mentioned her friends that were male students in need of a house the landlord advised her against it, saying that they were only interested in renting to female students. While this form of housing discrimination based on gender happens to Sacred Heart college students, perhaps more egregious is the discrimination faced by Connecticut residents who use housing vouchers or other forms of rental assistance to pay for housing. 

Makenzie Manning

Refusing to accept a Section 8 voucher is an example of discrimination against someone because of their legal source of income. Vouchers are given to families that cannot afford to pay their monthly rent in full so the government helps with a portion of the rent. In Connecticut, around 80% of voucher holders are Black or Hispanic. About 50% of voucher holders have children. Voucher holders have a limited amount of time to find a home before their voucher expires. Some landlords are not inclined to accept Section 8 voucher holders. If landlords continue to deny tenants because of the voucher, these families could be left homeless. 

To address this issue, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would increase the penalty for committing a discriminatory housing practice, and increase the number of staff at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities assigned to discriminatory housing complaints. If this bill passes, it would help Connecticut residents feel more comfortable during the process of finding housing and build their confidence by allowing them to have a voice if they encounter discrimination. 

The Fair Housing Act made it illegal in Connecticut for a tenant to be discriminated against because of their race, color, origin, gender, religion, family status, disability, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, legal source of income, and veteran status. However, investigative reporting and recently reported housing code violations indicate that discrimination based on source of income continues. This type of discrimination disproportionately affects people of color and, according to attorney Erin Kemple of CT Fair Housing, discrimination based on source of income could be considered a form of racial discrimination based on stereotypes of voucher recipients.  

Landlords that practice these discriminatory acts just add to the burden of homelessness and segregation in Connecticut, and for that they should face a fit punishment. The penalty for committing discriminatory acts in regard to housing should be increased in this state. If Senate Bill 1232 passes, in October 2023, landlords will be fined per discriminatory offense; up to $10,000 for first offense, up to $25,000 for second offense, and up to $50,000 for more than two offenses. If this punishment is enforced, homelessness and segregation rates could decrease.

Additionally, the bill would allow more funding for the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, resulting in these accusations being investigated more thoroughly, as well as taken more seriously. In July 2023, assuming this bill becomes law, $275,000 will be given by the General Fund to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in an effort to eliminate housing discrimination once and for all. 

Landlords believe that they can seek out a specific type of tenant for their property because it is, in fact, their property. Landlords hold a great deal of power, so shouldn’t they be eager to help families and struggling people? They should not be seeking out specific tenants, such as students, especially in a town like Bridgeport where there are so many people in need of housing assistance.

As a member of the Bridgeport community, I seek justice for my neighbors. I strongly believe all community members should have a voice to call out discriminatory landlords. Most of these discriminatory acts go unnoticed because people fear speaking up. However, if this bill passes that fear will diminish because their voice will be taken more seriously.

Before my research on housing inequity, I lived in ignorance of events taking place right in front of me. I would have never assumed that the people I see in my community every day are facing battles that I never had to face, due to the insensitivity of property owners. We as community members should be working alongside our neighbors and striving to provide better opportunities for them.

Members of the legislature must put themselves in the shoes of a voucher holder. Only then would they understand the urgency to pass this bill. 

Makenzie Manning is a sophomore at Sacred Heart University, majoring in Health Science with a concentration in Public Health.