Dis­crim­i­na­tory hous­ing prac­tices are alive and well in Mary­land

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer, a Demo­crat, rep­re­sents Dis­trict 20 in the Mary­land Se­nate.

In Mary­land, the ma­jor­ity of se­verely rent-bur­dened peo­ple are sin­gle moth­ers and over­whelm­ingly peo­ple of color. Ac­cord­ing to data from the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey an­a­lyzed by En­ter­prise Com­mu­nity Part­ners, al­most 32 per­cent of the state’s renters are se­verely hous­ing-cost-bur­dened, mean­ing they pay more than 50 per­cent of their in­come on rent. (Typ­i­cally, fam­i­lies pay 30 per­cent or less on hous­ing costs.) These fam­i­lies are tee­ter­ing on the line of in­sta­bil­ity and are just one ill­ness, one un­ex­pected ex­pense, one preschooler get­ting sus­pended from school, one missed day of work away from home­less­ness.

Fed­eral pro­grams such as Hous­ing Choice Vouch­ers (for­merly called Sec­tion 8) and low­in­come hous­ing tax cred­its were de­signed to re­spond to this lin­ger­ing cri­sis. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment ad­min­is­ters pro­grams that en­sure ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing, in­clud­ing Part­ner­ship Ren­tal Hous­ing and Ren­tal Hous­ing Works. While these in­no­va­tive pro­grams have had a pro­found ef­fect, only slightly more than a quar­ter of el­i­gi­ble very-low-in­come house­holds have ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing units. This has left thou­sands of work­ing fam­i­lies in peril. Wait­ing lists for vouch­ers are in the tens of thou­sands across the state, with seven ju­ris­dic­tions re­port­ing more than 66,000 fam­i­lies on wait­ing lists.

De­spite the dearth of af­ford­able hous­ing and the af­ford­abil­ity cri­sis, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed $173 mil­lion in cuts to af­ford­able hous­ing and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment pro­grams in Mary­land. Even more con­found­ing is that Mary­land law per­mits dis­crim­i­na­tory hous­ing prac­tices.

Un­der Mary­land law, land­lords and prop­erty own­ers can dis­crim­i­nate against an in­di­vid­ual on the ba­sis of his or her source of in­come, in­clud­ing money from any law­ful em­ploy­ment and any gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance, such as Hous­ing Choice. This will­ful blind­ness to a frame­work of law per­pet­u­ates and ex­cuses dis­crim­i­na­tion against low-in­come peo­ple. Poli­cies of this ilk hark back to the days of redlin­ing and other meth­ods that pre­vented peo­ple of color and low-in­come fam­i­lies from gain­ing ac­cess to jobs, good schools and other op­por­tu­ni­ties vi­tal to up­ward mo­bil­ity.

The good news is that ju­ris­dic­tions such as Mont­gomery County, Fred­er­ick County, Howard County, Fred­er­ick and An­napo­lis have laws that make dis­crim­i­na­tion based on source of in­come il­le­gal.

The Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion urges lo­cal gov­ern­ments to “en­act leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in hous­ing on the ba­sis of law­ful source of in­come.”

The trend in hous­ing pol­icy is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion across the coun­try. It is time for the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly to end dis­crim­i­na­tion based on source of in­come statewide. The Home Act Coali­tion, made up of ad­vo­cacy groups from across the state, has been work­ing on this is­sue for years.

Fol­low­ing the lead of Del. Stephen W. Laf­ferty (D-Bal­ti­more County), I served as the lead spon­sor in the state Se­nate of leg­is­la­tion that would help to put Mary­land on the right track. Sim­ply put, our leg­is­la­tion, the Home Act, pro­hibits land­lords and other prop­erty own­ers from dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple seek­ing hous­ing based on their source of in­come. The House of Del­e­gates passed this leg­is­la­tion in the last ses­sion; it’s time for the Se­nate to do the same.

I know peo­ple think hous­ing val­ues go down and crime goes up when peo­ple who have Hous­ing Choice Vouch­ers come into a neigh­bor­hood. That is ab­so­lutely un­true. In fact, a re­cent Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les study shows no cor­re­la­tion be­tween Hous­ing Choice Vouch­ers and crime.

At the very least, sen­si­ble im­ple­men­ta­tion of this leg­is­la­tion would en­sure that our most vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies have ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ties of op­por­tu­nity and would help decon­cen­trate pock­ets of poverty. If we are in­tent on do­ing more than merely preach­ing the pol­i­tics of in­clu­sion and have a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in pro­vid­ing ev­ery­one an equal chance and an un­fet­tered start in life, we have to start im­ple­ment­ing mean­ing­ful poli­cies with which some may be un­com­fort­able. Few real so­lu­tions come eas­ily.

We have to start im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies with which some may be un­com­fort­able. Few real so­lu­tions come eas­ily.

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