Source of rental in­come leg­is­la­tion pre­ma­ture in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Ben Fred­er­ick III

Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil’s pro­posed bill 18-308, “Hous­ing Dis­crim­i­na­tion — Source of In­come,” would force land­lords to rent to Sec­tion 8 Hous­ing Choice Voucher ten­ants, which in­volves com­pelling land­lords to en­ter into a con­tract with the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of Bal­ti­more City and the Fed­eral Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

Since its in­cep­tion in 1974, this fed­eral voucher pro­gram re­lied on vol­un­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion by land­lords who agree to pro­vide hous­ing within the pro­gram’s guide­lines. A re­cent Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity study found that while land­lords like the re­li­able rent pay­ments that a fed­er­ally funded voucher pro­gram pro­vides, many are frus­trated with the re­quired in­spec­tions and dis­ap­pointed with how lo­cal hous­ing of­fi­cials han­dle dis­putes with ten­ants. Con­trary to ten­an­tad­vo­cates’ claims that hous­ing providers refuse voucher re­cip­i­ents for dis­crim­i­na­tory rea­sons, an Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute study found that most land­lords do not ac­cept vouch­ers be­cause of the dif­fi­culty of ad­min­is­ter­ing the pro­gram. While race-based hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion has not been elim­i­nated, my anal­y­sis of an Ur­ban In­sti­tute study shows a 90 per­cent re­duc­tion in ra­cial hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion since 1977.

Rental prop­erty own­ers come from di­verse back­grounds — re­tirees look­ing to sup­ple­ment their re­tire­ment in­come, non­profit heads hop­ing to boost their in­comes, in­ner city en­trepreneurs seek­ing a bet­ter life than that of­fered by the drug trade. A de­ci­sion to pur­chase rental hous­ing is not hap­haz­ard. Some, for ex­am­ple, plan to own hous­ing units near a col­lege or univer­sity and like the idea of pro­vid­ing hous­ing for stu­dents. Oth­ers find op­por­tu­nity near em­ploy­ment cen­ters, where they can pro­vide af­ford­able work­force hous­ing. Oth­ers tar­get neigh­bor­hoods near mil­i­tary bases to house the mil­i­tary.

In each cho­sen spe­cialty, the land­lord learns the nu­ances of pro­vid­ing ameni­ties, fea­tures and a man­age­ment struc­ture that caters to the par­tic­u­lar needs of the cus­tomer base with­out re­gard to race, re­li­gion, sex or other pro­tected class.

Ac­cord­ing to Bal­ti­more Hous­ing’s web­site, the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity “part­ners with over 3,000 land­lords to pro­vide af­ford­able, de­cent, safe, and san­i­tary hous­ing for Hous­ing Choice Voucher Pro­gram (HCVP) par­tic­i­pants,” pro­vid­ing hous­ing for more than 13,000 voucher re­cip­i­ent house­holds in Bal­ti­more City. These 3,000 land­lords have cho­sen a busi­ness model to pro­vide hous­ing to voucher re­cip­i­ents that in­cludes the tem­per­a­ment to in­ter­act with the par­tic­i­pants, the of­fice staff, re­pair­men, sys­tem, and pro­ce­dures to ef­fi­ciently op­er­ate within the rules and bu­reau­cracy of the HCVP.

If Coun­cil Bill 18-308 passes, un­will­ing hous­ing providers will be com­pelled to sign a 12-page lease ad­den­dum with pro­vi­sions dic­tated by HUD or be sub­ject to law­suits for hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing land­lords agree to make their rental units sub­ject to the Hous­ing Qual­ity Stan­dards (HQS) in­spec­tions. A Hous­ing Au­thor­ity in­spec­tor vis­its the rental unit be­fore the ten­ant moves in to make sure ev­ery item on the 30-plus point HQS check­list passes be­fore the ten­ant is au­tho­rized to move into their unit. No mat­ter how mi­nor the vi­o­la­tion or de­fi­ciency, ev­ery item on the HQS in­spec­tion must be re­paired. The unit is re-in­spected by an­other Hous­ing Au­thor­ity in­spec­tor who can im­pose ad­di­tional re­pairs at the in­spec­tor’s dis­cre­tion. We all agree that in­spec­tions are nec­es­sary. Bal­ti­more City’s new in­spec­tion pro­gram in­cludes a list of 12 crit­i­cal com­po­nents to safe hous­ing. The HQS list is more than twice as long.

Bal­ti­more City’s new in­spec­tion rules re­ward “good land­lords” with in­spec­tions once ev­ery three years, while HQS in­spec­tions oc­cur ev­ery year. No mat­ter how mi­nor, even if the dam­age was caused by ten­ant abuse, rent pay­ments are stopped un­til the HQS re­pairs are com­pleted. Restor­ing rent pay­ments is of­ten held up by bu­reau­cratic de­lays.

In the eight weeks it takes from the time a voucher re­cip­i­ent iden­ti­fies a home to when the pay­ment is ap­proved and the ten­ant ac­tu­ally moves in, the land­lord is not re­ceiv­ing rent and the home is va­cant, cre­at­ing an eye­sore on the block and sub­ject­ing it to van­dal­ism.

The web­site GoSec­tion8.com pro­vides free ad­ver­tis­ing for any land­lord want­ing to rent to voucher ten­ants. At this writ­ing, more than 1,700 homes in Bal­ti­more City and 400 homes in Bal­ti­more County are posted by land­lords who vol­un­tar­ily want to par­tic­i­pate in HCVP, sug­gest­ing there is no short­age of homes avail­able for sub­si­dized ten­ants.

If the stated goal is to in­crease rental homes of­fered to HCVP re­cip­i­ents, the city should make the ex­ist­ing pro­gram more ef­fi­cient and user friendly. Leg­is­la­tors, mean­while, should de­lay ac­tion on “Source of In­come” leg­is­la­tion un­til after the Fed­eral Task Force study­ing ways to in­crease land­lord par­tic­i­pa­tion fin­ishes its work.

Ben Fred­er­ick III (ben­fred­er­ick.com) is a Bal­ti­more City res­i­dent and real es­tate bro­ker spe­cial­iz­ing in apart­ment prop­er­ties.

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