Evita Cruz: Source of income discrimination leaves families vulnerable

This is part of a series about tenants who have faced discrimination because of their source of income. Watch Evita tell her story in the video above, and read the first installment in the series.

It was the holidays and Evita Cruz and her children were homeless.

Evita has a Section 8 housing choice voucher. She had to wait for two years to get one, but she’d had a voucher for a while when complications with her housing left her family on the street. It didn’t matter – because of the lack of housing options for voucher holders in Austin, Evita was without a place to live at the hardest time of the year.

“My children would tell me, ‘Mom, let’s go back home.’ But there’s no ‘back home,’” she remembers. “Eventually a place opened up and we were able to move in…but it was very hard.”

Evita is gainfully employed and raising two kids on her own. And she now volunteers with the organizing group Austin Interfaith, raising her voice in support of voucher holders. She spoke before the Austin City Council last year as they considered an ordinance to protect people from discrimination based on their source of income – an ordinance which passed unanimously, but is now challenged by a lawsuit and by bills in the state legislature.

She knows from experience how valuable source of income protection would be for voucher holders.

“When you throw the coin up in the air, you never know how it’s going to land,” Evita says. “In one minute, we can lose everything.”

Currently, 91 percent of landlords in Austin cannot or refuse to accept housing choice vouchers. This makes for a shortage of voucher housing that leads to long wait times for people to receive vouchers – longer than Evita’s two-year wait in many cases. It means that in times of crisis, even those with vouchers are vulnerable. And it leaves voucher holders without much choice at all in where they want to live.

Evita was eventually able to secure housing for herself and her children. But when she started looking for ways to get her kids into a higher-performing school, she found that she was unable to move to any neighborhoods that offered that opportunity.

“In any expensive area, it was a joke,” Evita says about her search for voucher housing near better-performing schools. “I couldn’t find anything. It has really affected us.”

Instead, Evita’s family has been forced to live in a lower opportunity neighborhood. She attributes the lack of housing options for voucher families to landlord discrimination.

“Some apartment complexes don’t take Section 8, and they stereotype people with vouchers and low income people, [saying] they’re just dirty and nasty,” Evita says. “But it’s not like that. I do have a job; I do work. I just need some help.”

The help extended by the City of Austin’s source of income protection ordinance is now under threat. But Evita says she’s optimistic, because people like her are speaking up for the rights of voucher holders.

“I honestly don’t think they’ll be able to win,” she says of those who oppose source of income protection. “Because more and more people are lifting their voices and saying, ‘we’re being discriminated against.’ It’s not something that you brush under the rug anymore.”