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Baltimore County passes HOME Act

TOWSON — The Baltimore County Council voted in favor of passing the HOME Act on Monday. The decision was made via a party line vote of 4-3.

The HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) Act prohibits housing discrimination based on the source of a potential renter’s income, including housing vouchers. The bill was first introduced during a council session on Oct. 7, and reactions across the county have been mixed.

“Today is a major step forward for Baltimore County,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. said on Monday evening.

“I thank the County Council for recognizing that discrimination in any form is wrong, and for working with me in taking this critical step to fulfill our legal and moral obligations. Together we will continue to expand economic opportunity, improve equity and build a better Baltimore County.”

A work session meeting was held on Oct. 29 in Towson to discuss the HOME Act, with several Baltimore County officials present. This meeting was held six days before the council’s vote.

In the pages of the Eagle, citizens in Dundalk have been sounding off for weeks in opposition to the act.

One of those was Marsha Parham-Green, executive director of the Baltimore County Office of Housing. Parham-Green told the council that residents who pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent become rent-burdened, and are increasingly more likely to become impoverished.

“Today, Baltimore County administers approximately 6,000 of those vouchers,” Parham-Green said to the council, citing federally-funded housing choice program vouchers.

“The vast majority of our participants are working families, senior citizens or persons with disabilities. Right now, the county has approximately 25,000 families on the waiting list, which results in an average wait of 12-14 years as of today.”

Parham-Green told the council that the one thing the HOME Act does not do is create more housing choice vouchers in Baltimore County. Instead, the federal government determines the number of vouchers available to each jurisdiction.

“This bill does not force landlords to accept every applicant that applies for their rental unit,” she said. “The decision to rent a home rests with the homeowner or landlord. The Office of Housing screens potential applicants for eligibility, and the landlord screens for tenant suitability.”

Parham-Green added the the HOME Act does not force landlords to take only vouchers. Instead, it allows program participants to have equal access to housing opportunities and fair consideration, and not to encounter discrimination at the onset, she said.

Parham-Green said she wanted to dispel one myth about the HOME Act – the myth pertaining to increased crime in areas that accept housing choice vouchers.

“Research has consistently shown that housing voucher concentration within a community do not correlate with crime rates,” she said.

One landlord, who testified before the council that they manage properties, said the values of their properties are not threatened by the HOME Act. This same landlord testified that they are a business owner, and they understand that concentrations of poverty threaten economic development.

“It does not impede my right to determine tenancy based on good credit and good past tenancy,” the landlord said. “Simply, it keeps landlords unable to discriminate on the basis of renters who have the means to pay their rent.”

Aaron Greenfield, representing the Maryland Multi Housing Association, testified before the council that discrimination of any kind is wrong, but also said the real problem with the housing choice program is the bureaucracy that oversees the program.

“It’s not about discrimination. It’s about the business of renting dwelling units,” Greenfield said. “MMHA’s objection to mandatory source of income with housing choice vouchers has everything to do with a bureaucratic, burdensome federal program that can take 5-7 weeks to lease to a tenant.”

Greenfield told the council that the housing choice voucher program takes units off the market, and causes a delay for not just the residential housing provider, but more importantly for the tenant.

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell, R-7, who represents Dundalk, is one of the council members who voted against the act. Previously, Crandell has voiced oppostition to the bill.

The law is scheduled to take effect in 30-45 days.

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