Sec­tion 8 needs ‘sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment’

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

As the au­thors of the re­port cited in Ben­jamin Fred­er­ick’s op-ed (“Forc­ing Baltimore County land­lords to ac­cept vouch­ers is the real dis­crim­i­na­tion,” Oct. 28), we were thrilled to read that both the land­lord and fair hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties found value in our find­ings. Our goal was to re­flect the com­plex­i­ties of ur­ban land­lord­ing rig­or­ously and fairly.

But, as our re­port noted, it is pos­si­ble to sup­port source of in­come pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion (as we do), while also rec­og­niz­ing that the fed­eral govern­ment’s rental voucher pro­gram needs sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment. In­deed, the im­pact of this kind of leg­is­la­tion, like the pol­icy ap­proved Mon­day in Baltimore County, will be lim­ited with­out re­forms that im­prove land­lords’ ex­pe­ri­ences.

All poli­cies in­volve trade­offs. In this case, the well doc­u­mented ben­e­fits of ex­pand­ing hous­ing op­tions for the poor — in­creased neigh­bor­hood op­tions and lower fail­ure rates for voucher fam­i­lies — far out­weigh the costs con­ferred to a few re­sis­tant land­lords re­quired to par­tic­i­pate. This is par­tic­u­larly true given the sub­stan­tial ben­e­fits of par­tic­i­pa­tion cited by nearly all land­lords in our study, a rental stream pro­tected from the vi­cis­si­tudes of the la­bor mar­ket.

As Mr. Fred­er­ick notes, land­lords are pri­mar­ily frus­trated with how govern­ment man­ages the voucher pro­gram, not with the ten­ants. Some land­lords har­bored prej­u­dices against poor African Amer­i­can fam­i­lies from “the city.” But the more com­mon land­lord opin­ion was that the vast ma­jor­ity of voucher ten­ants were re­spon­si­ble (and thus prof­itable) ten­ants.

This is great news. It is far eas­ier to change a pro­gram’s op­er­a­tions than peo­ple’s prej­u­dices. There is no rea­son for land­lords to lose any rental in­come be­cause of de­lays for en­dur­ing capri­cious in­spec­tions and ne­go­ti­at­ing rents and com­plex con­tracts. Such in­ef­fi­cien­cies harm both land­lords and ten­ants. Most fair hous­ing ad­vo­cates would stand with Mr. Fred­er­ick to urge re­form.

But re­forms de­mand re­sources. The fed­eral govern­ment’s decades-long de­ple­tion of op­er­at­ing funds for pub­lic hous­ing au­thor­i­ties is par­tially to blame for in­ef­fi­cien­cies. Still, even long­time land­lords rec­og­nize change is pos­si­ble.

The Baltimore Re­gional Hous­ing Part­ner­ship is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple. The non­profit ad­min­is­tra­tor of re­gional vouch­ers and hous­ing coun­sel­ing is stream­lin­ing pa­per­work and fre­quently in­ter­venes in land­lord-ten­ant dis­putes, boost­ing pos­i­tive perception­s among land­lords who de­cry the stan­dard voucher pro­gram.

Re­gard­less of ide­olo­gies, we can all agree that voucher pro­grams must func­tion for land­lords and ten­ants. We hope that both land­lords and ad­vo­cates will con­tinue to push for lo­cal re­form.

Al­low­ing fam­i­lies with vouch­ers to lease units for which they are oth­er­wise qual­i­fied in Baltimore County pro­duces enor­mous ben­e­fits. They are safer and hap­pier and their chil­dren are sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to achieve eco­nomic self-suf­fi­ciency. Pro­vid­ing this op­por­tu­nity is a moral obli­ga­tion that ac­crues enor­mous pos­i­tive ben­e­fits to so­ci­ety.

Ste­fanie DeLuca and Mered­ith Greif, Baltimore; Eva Rosen, Wash­ing­ton; Kathryn Edin, Prince­ton, N.J.; Philip Gar­bo­den, Honolulu, Hawaii

The writ­ers are au­thors of the study Ur­ban Land­lords and the Hous­ing Choice Voucher Pro­gram.

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