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Travelers Insurance Accused of Discrimination against Apartment Owners Renting to Tenants Receiving Housing Choice Vouchers
 
Complaint Allegations
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) filed a lawsuit against Travelers Indemnity Company and Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America (Travelers) for failing to provide habitational insurance to apartment owners who rent to tenants who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. The denial of insurance coverage because tenants receive assistance from the HCV program results in discrimination against people based on race and sex in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and based on source of income in violation of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act (DCHRA).

The Housing Choice Voucher is designed to help low income households access affordable, decent housing. Programs like HCV are critically important, particularly in high cost markets like the District of Columbia where 25% of residents pay over half of their income on housing expenses.

Graphic showing kinds of people who are helped by HCVs

Header graphic
“It is hard enough to find affordable housing in Washington, DC, and Travelers compounds that problem by denying insurance coverage to apartment owners who rent to tenants participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program — a program with the purpose of expanding housing opportunities in America.”
Shanna Smith, President and CEO
National Fair Housing Alliance
Travelers’ policy and practices limit housing opportunities for people, restrict the effectiveness of the HCV program, and add to stigmatization of the program and the people who rely on it. At a time when communities and cities are struggling to expand access to housing opportunities, particularly for the most vulnerable families in our communities, it is important that all insurance companies adopt policies and practices that support fair housing principles.
 
Complaint Investigation
In 2015–16, NFHA conducted testing of five insurance agencies serving the District of Columbia that sold Travelers insurance. NFHA’s investigations consistently found Travelers would not underwrite a habitational insurance policy for an apartment building occupied by Housing Choice Voucher tenants.

Based on information gleaned from the investigations and comments made by brokers who sell Travelers’ insurance, the presence of tenants who rely on HCVs was at issue as opposed to the quality of the building or condition of the property. Investigators were told:
  • “Wait a minute. Stop right there. Subsidized housing is a problem.”
  • “Travelers won’t write subsidized housing policies.”
  • “…any Section 8 would be a problem” and “Travelers doesn’t want any part of it.”
  • “…if all four have subsidized housing, doubting they’ll want to do it, quite honestly.”

Investigators were told that because they rented to tenants using HCVs:
  • Insurance premiums would be higher.
  • Insurance policies would be inferior.
  • Policies would cost more for less coverage.
  • Property owners who rented to HCV tenants would need to secure insurance in the surplus lines market.
 
Discriminatory Outcomes
Travelers alleged practices and underwriting guidelines have a discriminatory impact on the District’s most vulnerable households. Travelers’ policies disproportionately harm African Americans and women and deter apartment owners who want to help house low-income families in Washington, D.C.

African American households make up 92% of HCV participants in Washington, DC although they are just 45.2% of all households in the District. Female-headed households make up 82% of HCV participants but only comprise 47% of all households in the District.


92% of HCV holders are African American and 81.5% are Female-headed households

Travelers’ policies also harm landlords who rent to HCV holders or who, otherwise would rent to these residents. The consequences can be quite restrictive and include:
  • Landlords pay higher prices for insurance in surplus lines market.
  • Landlords realize lower profits due to increased cost of doing business.
  • Landlords pass on higher costs to tenants.
  • Housing cost burden is increased due to higher rental prices.
  • Landlords receive inferior insurance coverage.
 
Geographic Impact
“Travelers’ decision to exclude coverage for landlords who lease their residential rental units to tenants who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher Program has a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color and, in particular, African-American neighborhoods which are statistically more likely to have buildings occupied by Housing Choice Voucher holders.”
Lisa Rice, Executive Vice President
National Fair Housing Alliance
As the map below illustrates, renters who utilize Housing Choice Vouchers are highly concentrated in communities on the eastern half of the District, areas with largest percentages of African-American and Latino residents.

Map of DC showing percentage of renters who use HCV

The data shows that not only are Housing Choice Voucher holders more highly concentrated in the District’s communities of color but also that the percentage of renters who use the vouchers are much higher in these same areas (see map below). Thus, multi-family properties in communities of color are much more negatively impacted by Travelers’s practices and underwriting policy.

Map of DC showing race/ethnicity of HCV recipients
 
Photos

The photos below show multi-family buildings in Southeast Washington DC that are representative of buildings used in NFHA’s investigation.
 
 
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