The fate of a controversial proposal to ban landlords in Baltimore County from rejecting someone because they are using a housing voucher, commonly called section 8, rests with two members of the Baltimore County Council.
WYPR’s John Lee joined Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner in the studio to talk about the two council members whose votes are in play and the political tug of war over this legislation.
Sterner: John, first give us a recap of what this is all about and why it’s such a hot button issue.
Lee: Sure. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski introduced the legislation. He is required to do that. It’s part of a settlement the county reached in 2016 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over a discrimination complaint. Olszewski fully supports it and says continuing to allow landlords to reject tenants because they use housing vouchers is discriminatory.
Opponents counter this is a private property issue and that landlords should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to accept housing vouchers.
To pick up on some of the sentiment over this legislation, you just need to wade into social media. There is fear that this legislation will lead to more renters who will in turn trash neighborhoods. On the other hand, there are those who see it helping seniors, veterans and disabled people who need help finding an affordable place to live.
Sterner: So what is the outlook for the legislation?
Lee: Olszewski needs four votes on the seven member council for it to pass. He has two so far, both fellow Democrats. The three Republicans on the Council are “no” votes. So it will come down to the other two Democrats, Council Chairman Tom Quirk and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins.
The last time this legislation came up three years ago it was defeated 6-1. Both Quirk and Bevins voted against it.
John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, says this is an especially tough vote for Bevins. On one hand, Olszewski, a fellow Democrat really wants this legislation. On the other hand, Bevins’ district includes some pretty conservative parts of Eastern Baltimore County like the Middle River area.
Dedie: “You’re always thinking about ‘how will this vote impact my next election. How will this impact me down the road’ because we’ve seen where Democrats on the east side of the county are starting to become dinosaurs.”
Lee: Bevins had the closest race in last year’s council elections.
Sterner: Have Bevins and Quirk had anything to say this time around about the legislation?
Lee: Both gave me non committal statements. Bevins says she’s listening to all sides. Quirk says the legislation is under review and consideration.
Sterner: So what happens now.
Lee: There is a public hearing before Council on October 29 with a final vote expected November 4.
And it will be interesting to see if the legislation changes to try to move Quirk and Bevins to “yes.” But here’s the trick. Olszewski says any change to the legislation as is could run afoul of HUD and the county’s settlement of the discrimination complaint, especially if the proposal gets too watered down.
For instance, earlier this year the Baltimore City Council passed similar legislation but it was amended to make some landlords rent just 20 percent of their units to people with housing vouchers. Olszewski expects any change like that would be rejected by HUD.
Olszewski: “I would not be surprised and in fact would expect HUD to say ‘this does not meet the terms of the agreement. You are still obligated, county executive to put this legislation in again next year. Otherwise you’re facing the lawsuit’ that we’ve sort of avoided by having the agreement in the first place.”
Lee: Olszewski is cautiously optimistic the legislation will pass this time. He says more people understand what it will and will not do. For instance, it will not increase the number of housing vouchers in the county.