At issue in the case was a 2015 city ordinance barring landlords from discriminating based on “source of income” — such as a federally-subsidized Housing Choice Voucher, commonly referred to as a Section 8 voucher.
The case, which was brought by the Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh against the city, was argued before Commonwealth Court last month.
An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge last year had ruled the ordinance invalid, because of the duties and requirements it placed on businesses, in violation of the city’s home rule charter.
Attorneys for the city had argued the ordinance is needed to prevent discrimination against voucher holders, which is often a proxy for racial discrimination. A 2017 Post-Gazette analysis found many voucher holders are concentrated in certain neighborhoods.
Tuesday’s Commonwealth Court ruling sides with the prior court ruling against the city, saying the requirement violated the home rule law.
“We recognize that the City’s enactment of the Ordinance was well-intended. However, implementation of the Ordinance will require all residential landlords to significantly alter their business practices in order to accommodate Section 8 Program participants. Contrary to the City’s contention, the Ordinance does, in fact, place affirmative ‘duties, responsibilities or requirements’ on private businesses and employers,” wrote Judge Ellen Ceisler.
The city is reviewing the ruling, said a spokesman.
“We’re pleased with their decision to affirm the lower court’s decision and our position all along,” that the city was overstepping its powers, said Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the apartment association.
Lisa Gonzalez, a voucher holder who lives in Carrick, said she fears the ruling means it will be harder for residents to find affordable housing in the city, particularly African Americans.
“It’s always hard to find a place with a voucher,” she said.