For the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), protecting students against potential discrimination from landlords has been a project in the making for nearly three years. On Tuesday an ordinance that would add age and domestic partnership as a protected class under Ashland’s existing Fair Housing Ordinance was approved by city council for a second reading, shedding light on an issue brought forth by ASSOU in 2013.
“If a student feels that they have been discriminated against because they’re 18, 19, and it’s an age issue; once this passes they will be able to take legal recourse,” said Megan Mercier, a senior at SOU serving as liaison between the Ashland Housing and Human Services Commission and ASSOU. “Before we had this sort of triple barrier, because we’re young we’re poor we’re students.”
“This is a long time coming,” said Council member Carol Voisin who addressed student’s testimonies of running into Craigslist ads with the words “No Students” written on the page. “I hear it almost every day in my classes, their issues and their problems with this.” Throughout ASSOU’s Fair Housing Campaign officials collected 350 petitions from those who had believed to be discriminated against by landowners because they were students.
Currently the law protects renters from discrimination based on race, color, origin, gender, religion, source of income, disabilities, family status, sex, and sexual orientation. By adding age as a protected class it will be illegal for a landowner or property manager to deny someone housing based solely on their age, including emancipated minors.
“I know what it’s like to have that kind of discrimination, and I’m very proud of our city for looking to pass this ordinance,” said Council Member Stephanie Seffinger, who once lived as an emancipated minor.
According to Mercier however, the ordinance that was finally approved by the council “is a mild version of what student government was trying to do two years ago.”
One of the first plans drafted and presented to the council added occupation to the list of protected classes characterizing “student” as a full time job. At a study session in March, the council allowed input from legal staff which discounted this addition, claiming it would only result in unnecessary litigations and increased housing costs according to meeting minutes.
Feedback was also requested from landlords who claimed that such discriminatory practices reported by students were due to their lack of qualifying rental history, credit scores, income, or security measures to cover possible property damage. Language was then included in the ordinance that qualified grants, scholarships, or loans as an appropriate source of income that could be listed on a rental application.
“I do think it is a reasonable step forward to include age and domestic partnership within the context of our ordinances,” said Council Member Pam Marsh. “I do not think this will solve our housing issues,” attributing it to the one to two percent vacancy rate Ashland experiences depending on which survey is being looked at.
“I definitely think it’s just a piece of the issue,” said Mercier. “No matter what it’s hard for anyone to find housing.”