It was standing room only in the Baltimore County Council Chambers Tuesday afternoon, as the council heard from both sides of the controversial issue of housing vouchers.
Meantime, the odds may be improving that the legislation will pass the county council when it comes up for a vote next week.
The legislation would require landlords to accept housing vouchers, also known as section 8.
The debate boiled down to this. Opponents of the legislation said it should be up to property owners whether they accept housing vouchers. Supporters countered that rejecting people because they are poor and use a voucher amounts to discrimination.
And it boiled over when a disabled veteran, Jill Williams, told the council that she had been repeatedly denied an apartment because of her voucher. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins asked opponents of the legislation that would protect voucher holders to stand up.
Bevins asked, “Which one of you want to look at Ms. Williams and tell her she can’t live next door to you?”
That caused opponents of the legislation to shout “shame on you” at Bevins and she gave it right back to them.
“Shame on you, not shame on me,” Bevins said.
Bevins calling out the opponents may be significant because she, along with Council Chairman Tom Quirk, are the two council members who are publicly undecided on the legislation. Both will need to support it for it to pass.
After the hearing, Bevins said she remains undecided, but she is planning to offer an amendment to try to get the legislation through. People who own just a handful of apartments would be exempt and would not have to accept vouchers.
Bevins said, “In conversations with people, this kept coming up when I would go to community meetings saying, ‘look I just own that one house or two houses and I just don’t think that’s fair. I do not want to be in a contract with the government.’”
But during the hearing, that idea was rejected by Yara Cheikh, who supports the legislation as is. Cheikh told the council she’s a landlord with several apartments in the county.
“Whether it’s the federal government, or the state government or the local government, it makes me a better landlord to have to bring something up to code,” Cheikh said.
Opponents of the legislation said it’s a business issue, not a moral one. Aaron Greenfeld, with the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, said the red tape that comes with housing vouchers is costly because it can delay apartments being available for weeks.
“This takes units off the market,” Greenfeld said. “It results in significant delay not just to the residential housing provider but more frankly to the tenant.”
Wayne Slaboda blamed voucher holders for not taking care of their apartments and driving down housing values in neighborhoods.
“And unfortunately and I could take you all over Dundalk if you would like to follow me and show you what section 8 does,” Slaboda said.
But Marsha Parham-Green with the county housing office said that people who complain to the county often are mistaken about who holds a voucher.
“On average we get anywhere from five to ten complaints and out of a month long of complaints we might have one person that was participating in the housing trace voucher program,” Parham-Green said.
County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers told the council of the 5600 voucher holders in the county, 94 percent have jobs, are disabled or are seniors.
The county council is scheduled to vote on the issue next Monday.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski wants the legislation to pass as is with no amendments. Otherwise, he said, it may be rejected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The legislation is part of an agreement with HUD that settled a discrimination complaint against the county.