Additional Thoughts (Apr 5, 2020) - Amendment to Non-Discrimination Ordinance

The following was originally published in my Apr 5, 2020 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section

Agenda item C-2 (https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4409125&GUID=67412A3D-1E6D-4C5A-824C-F086AFAFF6D9) is of particular interest to me as it addresses some issues that will perhaps be even more important now, during these uncertain economic times. I am co-sponsoring it, as a Council liaison to the Human Rights Commission. The details of this ordinance amendment were being sorted out just as I joined the HRC and I was excited to see it come together.


Background: the City currently has a non-discrimination ordinance, one that protects people from discrimination based on 

  • actual or perceived age, arrest record, color, disability,

  • educational association, familial status, family responsibilities, gender expression, gender

  • identity, genetic information, height, HIV status, marital status, national origin, political

  • beliefs, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, source of income, veteran status,

  • victim of domestic violence or stalking, or weight

See this link for more information:

https://library.municode.com/mi/ann_arbor/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TITIXPORE_CH112NSC

The proposed change would add to this list the category of “ethnicity,” defined as an identity that is “socially distinguishable from other groups” (e.g. nationality, religion, or language). It seems that every new national crisis opens a window for discrimination and prejudice against ethnic groups— the current COVID-19 virus is no exception, so I’m pleased that we are doing what we can, locally.


Another important change proposed: the amended ordinance would very particularly describe how “source of income” cannot be used to discriminate. Currently, calculations of income create a disadvantage for people who need housing assistance in order to pay rent. Targeted rent subsidies— if counted as a dollar-to-dollar reflection of income— are easily under-counted as evidence of a person’s ability to afford market-rate housing.


It works like this: rent is understood to be an expense that should take up not much more than about a third of your total income. In order to prove you can afford $1000 in monthly rent, you typically are expected to prove that you have about $3000 in monthly income. If you make $2400 a month, the estimate would be that you can only afford $800 in rent. With $200 in rent assistance, someone who earns $2400 a month should be able to afford an apartment that costs $1000 ($800 + 200), but that person’s calculated monthly income is likely to be too low to qualify: $2600 ($2400 + $200 subsidy).

This proposed change requires that landlords— in calculating income — multiply the amount of a housing subsidy by three, to address this problem. As a practical matter, this means that residents who receive housing assistance (from any federal, state, local, or nonprofit entity program) will not be at a disadvantage in finding housing at the price the assistance is meant to help them afford. I am very excited about this amendment and I am especially thrilled to be co-sponsoring it!

Elizabeth NELSON

DEMOCRAT for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4

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PO Box 2243. Ann Arbor. MI 48106-2243