FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 13, 2021
FROM: The Committee to Elect Damon Krane
I’m very happy Athens City Council is finally considering expanding affordable housing by prohibiting landlords from discrimination against Section 8 tenants within Athens city limits. 19 other states and 10 other Ohio cities already prohibit source of income discrimination — it’s past time for Athens to catch up!
The issue was put on Monday’s council meeting agenda by 1st Ward representative Arian Smedley. (The full meeting can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/CityOfAthensOhioInfo/videos/922174201968914/ )
A lot of folks have worked long and hard for this policy, and I am among them. But you’re not likely to hear our local political establishment acknowledge my role in advancing this issue, or the role played by United Athens County Tenants, or the role played by 2019 independent socialist city council candidate Ellie Hamrick, whose team is responsible for first raising the issue locally. That’s because we’re the ones pushing the city establishment in a more progressive direction than it wants to go. And if our city is going to continue to change for the better, it’s important to understand how positive local change happens.
I’ll review my record on this issue more closely now.
OPERATION SLUMLORD SMACKDOWN
Not only did my April 8 campaign announcement include my call for banning source of income discrimination as the second policy initiative listed — I have been calling for a local ban on source of income discrimination ever since I ran for mayor of Athens in 2019. That year I included a SOID ban within my package of proposed housing policy reforms, “Operation Slumlord Smackdown,” at the urging of Ellie Hamrick’s city council campaign. 2019 council candidates Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday both ended up endorsing OSS with the SOID ban included.
THE 2019 CAMPAIGN & CANDIDATE FORUMS
When OSS supporters questioned all the 2019 candidates for Athens City Council At-Large about an SOID ban during an October 24, 2019 candidate forum, Democrats Sarah Grace and Beth Clodfelter both joined Hamrick and Monday (as well as independent candidate Pat McGee) in endorsing a SOID ban. Beginning at the 1:47:17 mark in the video of that night’s candidate forum, Grace said in no uncertain terms
“Yes, absolutely. I support a ban on source of income discrimination. In fact, I’ve already brought it up in committee in City Council. This is something that came forward from discussions with members of the Affordable Housing Commission. This is something that we decided, this can happen very quickly and can take effect right away.”
At the 1:51:52 mark, Clodfelter replied, “I’ll be very brief because we’re near the end of our closing time. Yes, I would support a ban on source of income [discrimination].”
(Note: The full video can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/CityOfAthensOhioInfo/videos/552020318904409 ) This 2019 candidate forum was hosted by the Far Eastside Neighborhood Association and moderated by Alan Swank, now himself a 2021 Democratic primary candidate for Athens City Council who also has endorsed a SOID ban, while his opponent, 12-year incumbent Chris Fahl, has not).
But after Grace and Clodfelter won the 2019 city council election, they failed to introduce a SOID ban to Council, then stopped acknowledging the issue and even ignored constituents who questioned them about it on Facebook on March 26, 2020.
While Grace, chair of Athens City Council’s Affordable Housing Commission, stated in October 2019, “This is something that we decided; this can happen very quickly and can take effect right away,” it would take 17 more month of continuous pressure from housing justice activists, and finally the threat of new left-wing campaigns for city office in 2021, before a member of council other than Grace or Clodfelter — Arian Smedley — would finally introduced a SOID ban to council yesterday.
UNITED ATHENS COUNTY TENANTS
In contrast to Grace and Clodfelter, I continued working for a SOID ban after the 2019 election, both individually and alongside other housing justice activists as a member of United Athens County Tenants. This is reflected in UACT’s social media posts and an October 19, 2020 Athens Messenger article ( https://www.athensmessenger.com/news/housing-authority-says-hud-and-prokos-incompatible/article_89051e3a-b703-5735-a562-deba3b4a8e8d.html ), which reported the following.
Damon Krane, also a member of United Athens County Tenants, ran for Athens City Mayor in 2019, using a platform of increasing the city’s housing code, to update the city’s housing infrastructure, and increasing the Code Office’s budget to help the office crack down on infractions. He says the issues have not changed, despite endorsements of better housing options for low-income residents of the area from two members of city council: Sarah Grace and Beth Clodfelter.
They specifically expressed support of a ban on income discrimination which would prevent landlords from choosing not to offer housing off that criteria.
“Since elected Grace and Clodfelter haven’t followed through with any proposed ordinance, and a few months back they both chose not to respond when tagged in questions about the issue on the SEO Mutual Aid Facebook page,” Krane told The Messenger on Thursday.
He also noted that according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s nation-wide 2020 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, Athens County has the worst housing problems in the entire state of Ohio. The severe housing issues is listed as a health factor regarding an individual’s physical environment, utilizing data from 2012-2016.
To help address the issue, Krane and [fellow group member Lori] Boegerhausen say the United Athens County Tenants group will be seeking action from the city council to create a ban on income discrimination. Whether this can be extended across the county remains to be seen, as does whether the Athens City Council will be receptive and supportive to the measure.
URGING SOLVEIG SPJELDNES TO TAKE UP THE ISSUE & PRESENTING THE LEGAL ARGUMENT
Furthermore, as part of my individual advocacy for a SOID ban, on January 8 of this year, when new 2021 Democratic candidate for City Council’s 1st Ward Solveig Spjeldnes first announced her candidacy on the Athens West Side Facebook page, I replied to the post, once more criticizing Grace and Clodfelter for dropping the issue of an SOID ban, and challenging Spjeldnes to commit to introduce a SOID ban if elected to council.
Spjeldnes’ initial response was to state that a SOID ban was not legally permitted. After I explained to her why that was not true, she thanked me and promised to do more research. To her credit, she did that research, and now she supports a SOID ban. I will briefly review the course of her evolution on the issue.
“If landlords decide not to accept Section 8 vouchers at all, it is my current understanding that City Council has no power under Ohio law to force them to do so,” Spjeldnes initially replied to me on Facebook. “Athens City Council has law making restrictions related to being a Statutory rather than a Charter city. Ohio law along with ordinances dictate when and how our city council can and cannot intervene.”
I responded by explaining the following.
Thus far, all of the Ohio cities that have passed SoID bans are charter cities. However, that is not terribly surprising considering that, of all Ohio cities, 3 out of 4 are charter cities. And this does not mean that a statutory city like Athens is forbidden from passing an SoID ban by adding “source of income” to the existing list of classes protected from housing discrimination.
Indeed, if you compare the list of protected classes in Ohio’s current fair housing law –ORC 4112.01(H)(1)– to the current list of protected classes in the Athens City Code –ACC 3.07.62(C)(1)– you will see that Athens, to its credit, already includes two classes not protected by state fair housing law, those being “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.” The latter was incorporated as a protected class in 2010; I assume the former was incorporated even longer ago.
And again, ACC 3.07.99 states, “Any person, firm, or corporation violating any provisions of Sections 3.07.61 through 3.07.68 of this Code, or any amendment or supplement thereto, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined in accordance with Section 2929.21(D) of the Ohio Revised Code.”
Thus it seems to me that there is no reason Athens could not also add “source of income” to the list of classes protected from housing discrimination.
Spjeldnes replied, “Thank you for your well studied information on this issue. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and time to prepare this, which I have copied and kept… I will continue to study and pay attention so I can be a productive advocate.”
(My entire exchange with Spjeldnes can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/groups/athenswestside/permalink/1818326744992166 )
Again, to her credit Spjeldnes made good on that commitment. Three months after our exchange on the West Side Facebook page, she spoke at Monday’s council meeting to express her support for adding “source of income” to the list of classes protected by Athens’ current anti-discrimination ordinance.
She described this as “an excellent first start” but added that to enforce the anti-discrimination measure against resistant landlords additional language may need to be added to city code regarding penalties for non-compliance.
“I’m afraid some landlords are not going to be welcoming this change,” she said. “So I think if we can make this as appealing as possible, with some teeth — that might need to have some additional portions to this ordinance or a separate ordinance altogether — I think that would be beneficial for making this really work.”
RAISING THE ISSUE IN THE 4TH WARD COUNCIL PRIMARY RACE BETWEEN CHRIS FAHL & ALAN SWANK
Another example of my individual advocacy for a SOID occurred at the 4th Ward City Council Candidate Forum with Alan Swank and Chris Fahl, held by the Athens County League of Women Voters on March 23. There Swank and Fahl were asked the following question 49 minutes and 2 seconds into the event.
Many Ohio cities have outlawed housing discrimination against Section 8 tenants by adding ‘source of income’ to the list of ‘protected classes’ within their local fair housing ordinances. The Athens fair housing ordinance already goes above and beyond state fair housing law by protecting gay and transgender tenants from discrimination. If elected, will you push to add ‘source of income’ to the list of classes that are protected from housing discrimination in Athens?
As my email records show (I can provide a screenshot to media upon request) and the Athens County League of Women Voters should be able to confirm, I am the person who submitted that question via email to the candidate forum held over Zoom.
Swank replied, “Absolutely. Whether you’re getting your income from Section 8 subsidies, from a rich uncle in Utah or out of your bank account at the Hocking Valley Bank, it should not matter as long as you have the money to pay the rent… Source of income should not matter. It should not matter at all. We have a dearth of affordable, quality housing for our senior citizens, and similarly we have a dearth of affordable — and I’ll put emphasis on ‘quality’– housing for individuals who may not have a great deal of money.”
Fahl replied, “I would have to see whether the state actually preempts those sort of things because the state does try to preempt some of the more progressive things that cities have been trying to do, especially over the last couple of years.”
Fahl doesn’t appear to have investigated the issue herself since the March 23 candidate forum — but 1st Ward council member Arian Smedley did exactly that.
MONDAY’S COUNCIL MEETING
I attended Monday’s council meeting as a very interested observer, but I did not speak. Katherine King, my colleague at United Athens County Tenants, delivered public comment. In addition, Council invited comment from Southeastern Ohio Legal Services Senior Staff Attorney Peggy Lee, who in addition to SEOLS Managing Attorney Lucy Schwallie, has participated in UACT’s recent educational series of workshops and panel discussions.
(Lee and Schwallie also co-authored this December 29, 2020 Letter to the Editor of the Athens Messenger in which the two provided information on SOID bans — https://www.athensmessenger.com/comment/editorials/supporting-tenants-seeking-housing-using-vouchers/article_a9b45fe0-4612-510a-87a3-ef95b72e9fd0.html )
With King and Lee already providing the necessary information, I did not feel the need to add my voice. But I listened with great interest as Smedley explained “a little story of how we got here.”
“A resident on the West Side reached out to me [and asked] if the City of Athens would be in position to adopt an ordinance that would ban discrimination on source of income,” Smedley stated. “And included in the communication was a news article about how Bexley, Ohio had done this similar change about a year ago.”
Smedley apparently was referring to a March 11 post made to the Athens West Side Facebook page by David Kurz, in which he described a SOID ban like that passed by Bexley as “A simple solution to help some of our most vulnerable people” and added, “It’s past due in Athens.” (See https://www.facebook.com/groups/athenswestside/permalink/1863958590428981 )
Kurz then tagged Smedley in the comment thread, and she replied, “Thank you for sharing. I will bring this up with Council Members.”
Kurz and I both “liked” Smedley’s response.
At Monday’s meeting, Smedley explained that in response to the West Side resident’s Facebook post, “I reached out to Law Director Lisa Eliason for her to take a look.”
“And my ask was simply, ‘Is this something we can look at, or at least talk about?'” Smedley continued. “And after some communications, she discovered and recommended that if this was something of interest for Athens that we could simply amend our current ordinance that’s called ‘Unlawful Discriminatory Practices’ by adding the language ‘source of income.'”
“This is a fairly simple change,” Smedley continued. “We’re including this ‘source of income’ as another thing we want to protect people for.”
This, of course, is the exact process I outlined back on January 8, also on the Athens West Side Facebook page, in my discussion there with Spjeldnes.
“THE LOCAL BERNIE SANDERS EFFECT” CONTINUES
The bottom line here is Council’s enactment of a SOID ban (apparently now imminent) is just one more example of what I call “The Local Bernie Sanders Effect,” whereby new independent left-wing candidates and community activists are pushing the local Democratic establishment in a more progressive direction.
In a city with no Republican officeholders, and usually no Republican candidates, the struggle between economic conservatives and progressives has until now mostly been a struggle between a Democratic establishment backed by local economic elites and Republicans (including the 15-year county GOP chair’s support for Democratic Athens Mayor Steve Patterson) and independent candidates and community activists mounting a challenge to the local Democratic establishment from its left. And that challenge is achieving victories. Even when candidates like me lose an election, we are slowly but surely winning the policy battles.
Back in 2019, Athens Democratic politicians mostly dismissed the issues progressive independent candidates like me raised. (See https://www.thepostathens.com/article/2019/09/election-change-rental-housing-policies-athens?fbclid=IwAR3_u5J6Fez6u8NoIdKZJEKVG0Ou3yJWpDK4FSxXGYaIzegJHY7xXpjfo4g )But even that year, Athens City Council responded to “Operation Slumlord Smackdown” by increasing penalties against landlords who repeatedly violate our housing code. (See https://www.athensnews.com/news/local/athens-election-challengers-city-enables-slumlords-over-tenants/article_d6a897d0-c9b8-11e9-9747-57846ebf9888.html and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgjeHuiLvJU&ab_channel=DamonKrane ) While that’s nowhere near enough to reign in predatory slumlords, it is also the most substantial pro-tenant legislation council has passed in decades.
Now, two years later, all of the new Democratic candidates — Ben Ziff, Solveig Spjeldnes and Alan Swank — have adopted large parts of the 2019 candidates’ housing justice platforms, and Swank also has begun adopting racial justice activists’ positions on city issues, including policing.
I realize some folks get upset at me for demanding better things from city officeholders. That’s why my opponents have once again nominated me for “Politician We Hope Will Go Far Away” in this year’s Athens News “Best of Athens” awards. But like Frederick Douglass said about what he called “the whole philosophy of reform” — “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
I am very happy to continue to be part of The Local Bernie Sanders Effect, as both a candidate for city office again this year and as a social justice organizer every year. Just think how much more I could do if elected to city government!
But to win a much more just and equitable Athens, more of us need to be willing to rock the boat. It’s the sort of thing that will win you as many enemies as friends. People will say mean things about you. But it is what’s necessary to get the job done.