HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Thousands of Houstonians are facing a housing issue that most have no idea even exists. They can't find a landlord who will rent to them and it's perfectly legal for them to be denied.
“Over and over and over,” explains Denise Taylor McCullough, who says she is repeatedly running into landlords who seem excited about her moving in.
”'Do you want to come and see the apartment?' Yes. Then my last question is, 'Do you accept housing?' No”. When they learn a portion of her rent will be paid by an Affordable Housing voucher, Houston landlords turn her away, and she isn't alone.
”Unfortunately, it's really bad, particularly since Harvey,” explains Houston Housing Authority’s vice president of Housing Choice Voucher Program Mark Thiele, who says there's a misconception about the type of person using housing vouchers.
”They're nurses. They work at Starbucks. They're doing their darnedest to live the American dream,” and 90 percent are minorities.
Realtor Pamela Banks with StrongTower Realty has dozens of clients, including McCullough, who can't find a landlord to rent to them.
She calls it income discrimination and says she was recently told, “We don't really want them kind in our neighborhood."
"What are you saying when you say 'them kind?," Banks asks. "In 2019, we’re still using language like that.”
McCullough has a long employment history and an unblemished rental past. She moved to Houston from Chicago two years ago after divorcing to give her daughter a better life after murder became a too familiar way of life for her then 12-year-old.
“And she was saying, 'Mom, someone just got killed.' It's like it became normal. That's not normal,” she said.
Her daughter has now attended three different Houston schools as McCullough tries to find them a permanent home. The instability is taking a toll on her daughter and their relationship.
“She’s frustrated and angry with me, for one. That's a little touchy right now,” McCullough says, choking back tears.
McCullough and her daughter lived with Banks, a perfect stranger. Banks says she fights so hard for renters' rights, because she’s been there.
“I was in that situation. I had five kids, went through a divorce, had no place to stay,” says Banks, who then served in the U.S. Navy and has now been a real estate broker for decades.
As for McCullough and her daughter, they now have to move again since the voucher won't pay for an apartment where there are violations.
Texas state law says landlords don't have to accept housing vouchers. However, proposed Texas House Bill 1257 would allow each city to determine if landlords are required to accept the vouchers.
In the meantime, McCullough says she's praying for a permanent home, specifically for her daughter.
“One of the positive things I can see this is teaching her is to go to school and get an education so she won't have to go through this when she gets older,” she said.
Residents only have 60 days to use the affordable housing voucher or they lose it and it can take years before they receive another one.
The Houston Housing Authority is holding monthly meetings to clear up the misconceptions and to give landlords accurate information about the program. The next meeting is on April 25, 2019 at HHA’s main headquarters 2640 Fountain View from 2-4 p.m.
Call the Houston Housing Authority at (713) 260-0500, or find them online housingforhouston.com.