In a case involving the Chester Housing Authority (CHA), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled public housing authorities can keep the addresses and names of Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) participants private. The program is commonly called Section 8.
“Too often, we have seen public officials try to paint a scarlet letter on the homes of low-income families, vets and others who receive assistance from the government in paying their rent,” said CHA Executive Director Steven A. Fischer. “This ruling clearly states that housing authority clients cannot be singled out.”
The case stems from a 2014 Right to Know request by Chester Township Solicitor Stephen Polaha. Under the law, he asked CHA for a list of all properties where tenants receive housing assistance from the HCVP.
In claiming that certain properties were not being inspected as required, the solicitor then pressed for the names of the renters, as well as the names and addresses of the owners of those properties.
In accordance with the Right to Know law, CHA responded by providing inspection records and census track numbers. The housing authority also included the names and addresses of the owners of the properties, who are responsible for inspections. CHA did not believe Polaha had any legal grounds asking for HCVP participants’ names and addresses, though.
After Polaha sought legal action, however, in 2015 a Delaware County Common Pleas Court judge ordered CHA to turn over the requested information. CHA, wanting to protect its clients’ privacy, first took its arguments to Commonwealth Court, and then to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
When the state Supreme Court sent the matter back to Commonwealth Court, it reversed the original decision on Nov. 21. In doing so, Commonwealth Court found that voucher recipients have a constitutionally-protected right to privacy in their home addresses. Ultimately, the fact that they receive assistance for their housing does not waive their right to privacy.
“We fought the original decision because we knew it was wrong,” said Fischer.
Although the case dealt specifically with CHA, the new ruling will apply to every housing authority in Pennsylvania.