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Baltimore County's Housing Voucher Controversy Heads To A Tuesday Public Hearing

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government

Housing vouchers, also known as section 8: are they a helping hand for people in need or do they threaten neighborhoods? 


The Baltimore County Council has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday afternoon on legislation that would forbid landlords from rejecting would-be tenants because they use the vouchers. 


Thousands of people in Baltimore County find themselves on opposite sides of the controversy.




Traddona Pride has an apartment in Windsor Mill. She can afford it because she has a housing voucher.


A few years ago, Pride said she and her daughter lost their home and were living with family following her divorce from an abusive husband. Then she got a housing voucher and was able to afford an apartment. Pride isn’t sure where she would be now without it.


“Still trying to make a way or trying to figure it out,” Pride said. "So, it definitely made a difference.”


And that difference includes currently training for a full time job as an admissions specialist in the emergency room at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Pride wants to be making enough money soon to give up her housing voucher.


“To be a homeowner one day.” Pride said. “Because that’s the goal.”


Meanwhile, a Parkville woman drives around her neighborhood and points out a particular corner.


“Non-stop drug dealing here at night,” she said.” All day long. Look at the trash.”


She doesn’t want to use her name. She fears reprisal because she opposes the legislation requiring landlords to accept vouchers. She said when she moved into the neighborhood nearly 30 years ago it was safe and clean. Not any more. She said what’s changed is that many homes have been turned into apartments, and she believes a number of those renters have vouchers. 


“It’s not just the housing vouchers,” she said. “It’s housing vouchers and making the people that own the houses accountable for the people that live in the houses with the vouchers.”


Opponents believe voucher holders are fueling the increase in apartments in county neighborhoods. But the number of available vouchers in Baltimore County is capped. 


Alicia Mazarra, a senior analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, doubts the housing voucher program is big enough to have much of an effect on how many apartments there are. Mazarra said there are only 2.2 million vouchers available nationwide. There are around 5,000 in Baltimore County.


“If you’re talking about a hand full of families moving into a neighborhood, the volume I don’t think is there to really create these big shifts given the size of the program,” Mazarra said.


Some parts of Baltimore County have more people using vouchers than others. Mazarra said if landlords aren’t allowed to reject voucher holders, that would help spread the limited vouchers around because renters would have more options. Mazarra said the current voluntary system allows landlords to discriminate against voucher holders, based on their income. She said assumptions about renters that use vouchers can lead to racial discrimination.


But Jodie Applewhite, Manager of Public Policy for he National Apartment Association said their beef with vouchers is not with the renters. It’s with the program that brings with it a lot of red tape, like limits on rent increases, and delays in inspections and payments.


Applewhite said, “It causes a financial and administrative burden on the property owner.” 


Applewhite said more landlords would participate if the voucher program was streamlined. 


For now though, Mazarra said more than one-third of voucher holders nationwide are protected by local and state legislation like what is being considered in Baltimore County. 


The Baltimore County Council is required to consider the legislation as part of an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that settled a discrimination complaint against the county.


So far, the three Republicans on the seven member council have said they will vote against the legislation. Two of the four Democrats on the county council support it. The other two, Cathy Bevins and chairman Tom Quirk, have not taken a stand on the issue.


Three years ago, the last time, the council considered the legislation, it lost on a 6-1 vote and both Bevins and Quirk voted against it.


The Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote again on the legislation November 4.





John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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