ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Homelessness among veterans rose slightly last year despite a nationwide effort to get them off the streets. One reason the problem is so hard to solve is the lack of affordable housing in many big cities. There was anecdotal evidence that landlords in tight markets were turning veterans away. Now there's solid proof of that, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The Washington state attorney general's office set up a sting.
BOB FERGUSON: We essentially investigated it posing as a veteran who had a VASH voucher and wanted to rent a unit from a landlord.
LAWRENCE: Attorney General Bob Ferguson is talking about a HUD VASH voucher, the main way the government helps out homeless and disabled vets with housing. His team sent out emails to 50 random landlords asking to rent using the voucher.
FERGUSON: Ten of those landlords responded by saying, we do not accept those - just a blanket denial. Did not ask for more information - just a blanket denial. And, you know, that's troubling on many levels.
LAWRENCE: Ferguson says of the 10 landlords, eight immediately volunteered to change their policy. Two said they were breaking no law.
FERGUSON: Our view is that it is illegal for the following reason - Washington state has, like all states, a law against discrimination.
LAWRENCE: Most state laws don't specifically protect veterans when, for example, landlords are uncomfortable with the idea of combat veterans as tenants. Other times they seem reluctant to accept vouchers from the VA, which makes no sense to Kathryn Monet with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
KATHRYN MONET: Veterans are really great tenants.
LAWRENCE: Monet isn't saying landlords should be doing this out of patriotism. It's a practical matter.
MONET: Veterans with HUD VASH, they generally pay on time because the government is paying for most of their rent. HUD VASH vouchers come with case management. And so it, to me, is not only surprising but also really disappointing to see that there are still these outdated perceptions of homeless veterans being terrible tenants.
LAWRENCE: And this discrimination is hitting hardest in the tightest housing markets. Kristen Rouse is an Afghanistan vet with the NYC Veterans Alliance. I reached her on a noisy cell phone. She says it's not just homeless vets. It's disabled vets who are getting VA support.
KRISTEN ROUSE: The veteran was trying to recover from wounds he received in combat, and it was made all the more difficult by a landlord who didn't want to lease to a family that had, you know, the primary source of income being VA disability. I mean, I think it's a travesty. It's a betrayal.
LAWRENCE: Rouse helped push through a law last year to make it illegal in New York City, joining Chicago and Miami and soon Washington state, which is expected to pass a specific law prohibiting discrimination against veterans. In California, it's still legal for a landlord to turn down a tenant if they're offering a VA voucher as part of their rent. It's seen as one reason that Los Angeles has the largest number of homeless vets nationwide, a number that rose last year. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.