The Republican running for Baltimore County Executive says if elected, he will not abide by a 2016 settlement over affordable housing between the county and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The county's role in bolstering affordable housing is a major point of contention in the race.
Under the agreement, the next county executive is required to introduce legislation that prohibits landlords from discriminating against anyone for using a federally funded section 8 housing voucher.
“During 2019, the new executive will have to submit the bill,” said Baltimore County Attorney Mike Field.
But Republican Al Redmer Jr. said if elected, he won’t do it.
“If a private business chooses for business purposes to not go through the additional burdens and bureaucracy of doing business with the federal government, I don’t believe another layer of government should force them to do so,” Redmer said.
Ignoring the existing agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development could land the county in U.S. District Court.
Redmer said if elected he will go to court to try to get the entire agreement torn up. His Democratic opponent, Johnny Olszewski Jr., calls that a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money.
“The reason Baltimore County entered into the agreement in the first place was because it was clear we would have lost any sort of litigation,” Olszewski said. “So to go back and say we’re going to file suit to get out of it I think is short sighted at best.”
The deal with HUD settled a housing discrimination complaint brought against the county. In addition to the legislation, it requires the construction of 1,000 new affordable housing units scattered across the county within 12 years.
Baltimore County Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale said more than 50 percent of those required units are already in the pipeline, meaning they, at the very least, have available financing.
“We have units in the northeast, in the central corridor and the northwest,” Van Arsdale said.
Currently, affordable housing is concentrated on the east side around Dundalk and Essex, and the west side, in Randallstown and Woodlawn.
Under the agreement, the county has set up a $30 million fund to make building affordable housing more affordable for developers.
Olszewski supports the agreement, calling it both a moral and economic imperative.
“It’s an opportunity so that no one community is bearing the burden and in doing so you can have top-notch schools, a vibrant economic development community and all communities can thrive,” Olszewski said.
Redmer counters that the federal government should not be involved.
“I think there certainly are ways for the private sector to get engaged and build nice, quality projects that are affordable for the citizens of Baltimore County to live in,” Redmer said.
The settlement calls for more affordable housing, not public housing. There is no public housing in Baltimore County.
And there will be no increase in the number of section 8 housing vouchers people use to help pay their rent. Baltimore County Housing Executive Director Marsha Parham-Green said the county can issue at most 5,300 vouchers. And due to federal budget cuts, they can only afford to issue around 4,400.
“We’ve never been fully funded since 2009,” Parham-Green said.
Despite that, Republican Delegate Kathy Szeliga said the threat of more section 8 is a hot-button issue.
“If it’s section 8 under another name, that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Szeliga said. “So if you want to call it something else but it’s the same thing.”
There are 32,000 families on the waiting list for a housing voucher in the county. It can take up to 14 years to get one. Because of the backlog, the county stopped taking applications for section 8 in July.