Let me say that yes, indeed, I am in favor of the source of income discrimination bill. The Baltimore County Council introduced the bill in July and defeated it 6-1 at their Aug. 1 meeting. It was hotly debated and District 4 Councilman Julian Jones, the lone African-American member on the council, cast the lone “yea” vote.
Bill 46-16 was about housing choice vouchers, or what we called Section 8 back in the day. The vouchers, which are subsidized by the federal government, are what certain qualifying low-income, veterans, elderly and disabled people use to pay the monthly rent for themselves, their children and other dependents. In Baltimore County, which has a population of more than 800,000 residents, roughly 6,200 people currently hold vouchers. (See the breakdown by zip code on page 3.) Twice as many African-Americans have vouchers than whites (3,806-to-1,909), according to the Baltimore County Housing Office.
My question is this: Why would a property owner reject an opportunity to receive a rent payment for their units each month, on time, and without hassle? Why are some landlords telling applicants, “No, I’m not going to rent to you because I don’t want that guaranteed money.”
I believe landlords are covering their biases. Without even reviewing the application of a voucher holder or, conducting a legal background check or credit history—which is still the landlord’s right—how can you make a determination of what kind of tenant the person would be?
As Jones said, it’s prejudice and discrimination-pure and simple. He knew he would have little to no support from his colleagues, but still stated his case without biting his tongue. He didn’t back down.
I randomly called nine apartment complexes in Randallstown, Towson and Cockeysville and was told that they do not accept vouchers. Do landlords tell seniors on Social Security that they won’t rent to them because of their government check? What’s different about the voucher method of payment? It goes back to who you believe is holding the voucher. Perception prejudice.
What the source of income bill is truly trying to achieve is this: If you have a voucher and you are moving into Baltimore County, the whole county is open for you.
The way it has been working (and now will continue to work) is: If you have a voucher, you can come to the county with that voucher, but chances are you’re going to live on the west or east side. The bill would have said to the landlords in other areas that they do have to take the voucher if the prospective tenant is otherwise qualified. Now, we know landlords would have tried to find other ways to disqualify the voucher holder, but that would have been dealt with.
I am old enough to remember redlining and other tactics used to steer blacks and other minorities to certain neighborhoods and keep them out of others. This is the same game with a new name. I can’t believe we’re still dealing with things like this in 2016.
It is against the law for landlords to discriminate by race, by religion, disability or family status (no children allowed). So how does Baltimore County allow property owners to discriminate because they don’t like where your money is coming from?
It all comes down to somebody systematically deciding that certain people are not going to live in certain neighborhoods, and steering them to where they believe you should live.
For me, this issue is about extending an opportunity for the next generation, giving folks with children who want something better for themselves and their families.
Such was the case with a young African-American man who testified before the council. His parents received a voucher and moved from the inner city to the county. He did well in our public schools, went to college and is now an engineer. He says most likely if he had stayed in the city neighborhood, he may have ended up in jail and or dead, like some of his cousins who were not able to leave.
There is no good outcome for clustering poor and low-income people, especially for the generations being born into that. Being able to move into any area of the county gives people an opportunity for a better environment, which would then hopefully create new opportunities to lift themselves up. Why should we say no to that? The people coming behind us should not have to keep fighting the same battle over and over again.
We like to make judgments about others. And I’ve heard the stories of people’s personal experiences, that people with vouchers are not good neighbors (how do we know they have vouchers? Or again, are we making a judgment?). That may be true in some cases, as it is with people who don’t hold vouchers.
Some believe people are poor because they want to be poor. Many of us have had help from the government and so how dare we thumb our noses at folks. Some say, “They shouldn’t be allowed to live in my neighborhood. I worked to buy my house or rent my nice condo. Why should they come in and get for free what I worked hard for? We forget that someone gave us an opportunity. Now that we have “arrived”, we are willing to shut the door of opportunity to those behind us. I do wish there was more education around the source of income discrimination bill before it was introduced and before it came to a vote. Councilman Jones did his best to educate the community about what the bill was about, and drum up support to help him do the battle. We have to do more than vote and elect our leaders. We have to back them up when they go out to do battle. That’s how we build political power.
Other communities get involved, show up in numbers, and state their cases. How many letters of support or opposition did Councilman Jones, District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond and District 1 Councilman Tom Quirk receive? Whether you agreed or disagreed on the issue, it is critical that we show up, send an email or attend the hearing.
There are forces out their working to roll back the clock. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen. The next time out, let’s do what we need to do to understand the issue. Let’s be more visible and vocal.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours? Share it below.