Baltimore County will prohibit landlords from rejecting would-be tenants because they use housing vouchers, also known as section 8.
The Baltimore County Council approved the controversial legislation Monday night in a vote that went straight down party lines.The four Democrats on the county council voted for it. The three Republicans voted against.
Here’s how hot this issue has been. Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who was publicly undecided until she cast her yes vote Monday night, said she has had police protection at her home since Thursday, after officers told her about social media threats. Bevins said her office also was inundated with hundreds of phone calls.
“And people kept referring to this as forced section 8, mandated section 8,” Bevins said. "That’s not what it is folks.”
Bevins said this is the most misunderstood bill in her nine years on the council. Bevins and other council members who voted yes reinforced that the legislation will not increase the number of housing vouchers in the county, and that landlords will still be able to reject someone with a voucher for reasons like bad credit.
The council amended the legislation so that in some circumstances property owners who own only a hand full of apartments will not have to accept vouchers. For instance, if you own a building with four apartments or fewer in it and you don’t use an agency to manage your rental business, then you don’t have to accept vouchers. The idea is to make life easier for the mom and pop renter so they don’t have to deal with the red tape that comes with section 8.
And while Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka voted for the amended legislation, he was not happy with that change.
“We’re having two sets of rules where one set of property owners can discriminate related to source of income and another set of property owners can’t discriminate,” Patoka said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski had warned the council not to change the legislation. That’s because the original legislation is part of an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that settled a discrimination complaint against the county. Olszewski was concerned a watered-down version would not fly with HUD.
After the vote, Olszewski said he thought the amended legislation would get HUD’s blessing.
“So, my understanding is that the amendment is consistent with existing language that’s in federal and state law and I believe that the intent and the spirit of the amendment is in line with the spirit of the overall legislation,” Olszewski said.
From the outset, the three Republicans on the seven-member county council opposed the voucher legislation, arguing property owners should be able to decide if they want to take part in the government program. Last night, when it was clear that the Democratic majority would pass the bill, the three had little to say. Republican Councilman David Marks did tell council members why he was voting no.
“I just think we can achieve equal opportunity through a robust strategy that includes more than just this,” Marks said. “That includes, transportation, includes education and many other factors without sacrificing the liberty and rights to private property that are the foundation of our republic.”
Supporters of the legislation said allowing landlords to reject people because they use vouchers is discriminatory. They also said if landlords have to accept them, that would have the effect of spreading voucher holders around Baltimore County, breaking up pockets of poverty. Currently, most voucher holders are concentrated on the east and west sides of the county.
Baltimore County now joins Baltimore City, as well as Howard, Frederick, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties in passing legislation that protects people using vouchers.
The source of income legislation will take effect 45 days after Olszewski signs it into law. An Olszewski spokesman said that could happen this week.