Understanding the Baltimore County Home Act
The Baltimore County HOME Act would outlaw discrimination against renters based on their source of income. Sources of income covered under this law can include inheritance, disability payments, alimony, and Housing Choice Vouchers. CPHA is honored to join our partners at Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, the Public Justice Center, and the Baltimore County Home Act Coalition in working towards passage of this important legislation.
We are no stranger when it comes to improving quality of life in Baltimore County. In the 1950s CPHA pushed for a Baltimore County master plan, for much of the 60’s CPHA fought for the establishment of the Solidiers Delight Natural Environment Area, and in the 1970s we even sued the County for limiting citizen input with regards to reorganization of the County Planning Board. In the year 2000 we held our Rally for the Region at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Pikesville. Most recently, we held two community workshops as part of our outreach work with the Opportunity Collaborative in Dundalk and Owings Mills.
Unfortunately, there are a great deal of misconceptions about who Housing Choice Voucher recipients are, the Housing Choice Voucher program itself, and what this legislation sets out to do. We’ve set up this page to explain the facts behind these issues and to show how such a law will improve quality of life throughout Baltimore county.
CPHA would like to thank Beyond the Boundaries for making our work on the HOME Act possible.
What is a Housing Choice Voucher?
Formerly known as Section 8 Vouchers, the Housing Choice Voucher program is a federal program developed in the 1970s. They are distributed to low income individuals and families who qualify by local housing authorities. Many times recipients do not receive their voucher until they have been on the waiting list for a very long time. In Baltimore County, the average wait time for a voucher is nine years. A voucher can only be used in the jurisdiction it is issued in.
After recipients are awarded their voucher, they may take it to any property that accepts it and charges the amount of rent that is within the guidelines set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The voucher does not necessarily pay for all of their rent. Recipients are required to pay 30% of their income towards the rent. Those portions of the rent not paid by the tenant are paid by the local housing authority with funds provided by HUD to the landlord through direct deposit. The only requirement for landlords is that they pass a basic housing inspection in order to receive payment.
Who are Housing Choice Voucher recipients?
In Baltimore County:
- 32% are senior citizens
- 25% are low wage workers
- 30% are people with disabilities
There is also a special program for veterans and their families called the Veterans Affairs Supplemental Housing (VASH) program.
Why is the HOME Act Needed?
The HOME Act is needed because many landlords refuse to rent to tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. As a result, voucher-holders are concentrated in lower-income areas of the County. This contributes to racial and economic segregation.
In what communities do voucher recipients live in?
You can view a map of Housing Choice Voucher recipients throughout Baltimore County right here.
Here’s a listing of the number of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) in select Baltimore County communities. The entire population of these communities are in parentheses:
- Randallstown (32,430) : 533 HCVs
- Dundalk (63,597) : 934 HCVs
- Essex (39,262) : 558 HCVs
- Middle River (25,191) : 462 HCVs
- Milford Mill (29,042): 568 (HCVs)
- Pikesville (30,794) : 395 HCVs
- Reisterstown (25,968) : 329 HCVs
- Woodlawn (37,879) : 355 HCVs
- Towson (55,197) : 242 HCVs
- Perry Hall (28,474) : 118 HCVs
- Lutherville (6,504) : 1 HCV
- Timonium (9,925) : 3 HCVs
As can be seen from the data, vouchers are heavily concentrated on the east and west sides of the County.
Why do some landlords refuse to take Housing Choice Vouchers and why do they oppose the HOME Act?
In public, landlords will state that taking Housing Choice Voucher recipients is an administrative burden and that anti-discrimination protections for voucher-holders are forcing them to take part in a government program.
These are questionable arguments. The only requirement for landlords is that they allow a very brief housing inspection in order to ensure tenants are not living in substandard housing. Some opponents of the law have spread false information that the process for evicting Housing Choice Voucher recipients is more difficult than that for other tenants or that landlords are not allowed to enter the apartments of voucher recipients. Furthermore, we know of at least one large landlord that will take vouchers in less affluent parts of the county but will not take them in more prosperous areas.
The more likely explanation is that landlords refuse to take vouchers due to unfair stereotypes about voucher holders. However, landlords will still be allowed to refuse to rent to potential tenants with a criminal history, poor references, bad credit rating, or any other criteria they judge relevant. The HOME Act only mandates that landlords not discriminate against a potential tenant due to their source of income.
What effect will the HOME Act have on the distribution of poverty throughout Baltimore County?
By outlawing discrimination against voucher holders, the Home Act will open up housing opportunities throughout the County for low income individuals. This will help to prevent and reduce concentrations of poverty.
How will this effect Baltimore County Public School Children?
It’s been said that “housing policy is school policy”. There’s a great deal of research that academic success is closely related to economic status. Research suggests that poor children perform better academically when they attend the same schools as their more affluent peers. The HOME Act will significantly increase the likelihood that a family with a Housing Choice Voucher will be able to move to a high opportunity area and put their child in a good school. It will also be an important tool in preventing schools from being overwhelmed with low-income students. You can read David Rusk’s Housing Policy is School Policy paper for more information.
Do any other jurisdictions have similar laws?
Yes. Howard and Montgomery County, the City of Frederick, and the City of Annapolis have passed similar laws. This law also exists for certain properties within Baltimore City.
At the state level, Utah, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin have such a law. Washington, DC also protects Housing Choice Voucher holders from discrimination.
What are the HOME Act’s chances of passage? What can I do to help it pass?
Advocates for the HOME Act have met with several members of the County Council and a number of them have been sympathetic. The County Executive is also in support of it. This April, more than 100 Home Act supporters packed the County Council Chambers in support of this bill. You can help by signing up for our email newsletter to stay aware of the latest developments, testifying at upcoming County Council meetings and hearings, and talking to your friends and neighbors.