Bill targets income-based housing bias
Bans voucher rejection
ANNAPOLIS | Voucher holders’ options for housing may soon broaden if Maryland lawmakers reintroduce and pass the Home Act in the upcoming 2017 legislative session.
The legislation is intended to stop discrimination in real estate based on source of income. It would prohibit landlords from turning away those paying with vouchers, adding to a list of other current illegal bases for discrimination, like race, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
The bill is designed to help those with Section 8 housing choice vouchers. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the vouchers “assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing.”
Public housing agencies receive federal funds to pay a housing subsidy directly to the landlord. Participating families then pay the difference between the actual rent and the subsidized payment.
Delegate Stephen Lafferty, the Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the Home Act of 2016 (HB759), said the specifics of the 2017 bill are in progress. It failed to move forward in the 2016 session after its first reading and hearing in February.
Supporters of the bill say it would be critical in the effort to end homelessness and decentralize poverty in certain neighborhoods.
“I believe in providing as many opportunities to housing as possible,” Mr. Lafferty told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
In an October work session of the House of Delegates subcommittee on housing, supporters of the Home Act said many landlords who accept vouchers are in impoverished neighborhoods that lack quality health care, grocery and transportation access. Limited voucher acceptance elsewhere only perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
Utah, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and many local jurisdictions already have similar laws that prohibit discrimination based on source of income.
Lawmakers have proposed similar bills in the past to help voucher holders, but they have failed to pass through Maryland’s General Assembly.
Housing associations say the housing choice voucher program, or Section 8, is a voluntary program and the decision to accept vouchers should be left to the housing provider.
Housing and real estate agent associations said the Section 8 voucher program puts additional contract and administrative burdens on landlords that they would otherwise not face with non-voucher tenants. Concerns include rent and security deposit limits, rent increases subject to government approval, uncertainty with rental payments, constraints on evictions and additional inspections and paperwork.
Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, owns 34 rental units in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Mr. Skolnik said 25 of his properties are rented to Section 8 voucher-holders. But he said the decision to do so should be optional.
“We believe in the fair housing laws,” Mr. Skolnik said. “This is genuinely different than religion or skin color. There are undue burdens that go along with the vouchers and that’s why we believe this bill should never see the light of day again.”
Mr. Skolnik said in a market-rate environment, he can move someone into a rental unit in about four days. But when dealing with vouchers, it can take 60 days, particularly in Baltimore. Mr. Skolnik said he loses money when that happens.
Supporters of the bill, like the Homeless Persons Representation Project and Maryland’s AARP, are urging legislators to move the Home Act forward into law.