Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Subtle and not so subtle housing discrimination

It doesn't take the infamous redlining maps of old any longer to keep certain renters concentrated in certain areas. Simply not accepting the vouchers commonly known as "section 8 vouchers" is another way.

Of the 6,261 families and individuals have housing vouchers in Baltimore County 90% are section 8 vouchers, the remaining 10% are shared between elderly, veterans and AIDS vouchers.
62% of those vouchers are concentrated in a few areas on the east and west of Baltimore County which include Woodlawn, Gwynn Oak, Windsor Mill, Randallstown and Pikesville on the west and Dundalk, Middle River, Essex, Rosedale and Sparrows Point on the east. Dundalk has the most vouchers of any community in the county, with 751 vouchers or 12% in one single ZIP code.
The darker, the better the opportunity index. Low opportunity areas easily expand  from
Baltimore City into Baltimore County 

So this year Baltimore County Delegate Steve Lafferty is repeating his heroic battle against discrimination which  failed in the 2016 early on in legislative session when the 2016 Home Act did not move forward after the first reader. 
"There's a lot of fear-mongering, and it's been going on for a long, long time"
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said last year. He wasn't commenting on Lafferty's statewide bill but on his own bill which he had introduced to the County Council barring voucher based discrimination for his county. His own bill failed in the Council with only one of the Council members voting for it, even though several other counties such as Howard, Montgomery and Frederick counties have similar laws in effect. Even the councilman who represents Dundalk, the district with the highest concentration of vouchers, voted against the bill which would have ensured a better distribution across the county. Some suspected at the time was that the Executive had just done some window dressing for the benefit of the settlement of a housing discrimination complaint negotiated between the county government and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year's statewide bill, the Home Act, HB 172 sponsored by Delegates Lafferty and Macintosh, is still en route on its long way through the process in Annapolis. On 2/7 the bill was voted to move forward to another committee hearing. The bill specifically addresses discrimination based on source of income, i.e. nobody can reject a tenant application simply based on the fact that the tenant intends to use vouchers to pay (parts of) the rent. As before, housing and real estate agent associations are against the bill which would require landlords to consider section 8 voucher applications. Their arguments: It places additional administrative burdens on landlords because of additional inspections and paperwork and that there are limits on rent and security deposits and rent increases which need government approval, as do evictions. One of the objections which is frequently listed, rent insecurity is the opposite of the reality of vouchers. The public portion of the rent covered by the voucher is actually guaranteed.
National statistics of voucher recipients

There is solid evidence that tenants that have the ability to settle in "opportunity areas" with better schools, more jobs and a better housing stocks have a better chance of advancing and breaking out of poverty than those that are clusters in concentrations of poverty. Baltimore County that surrounds Baltimore City on three sides must be seen in the core city's context. Escaping high concentrations of poverty in the City often requires a move to the County. As long as the concentrations are replicated, although on a less extreme level, several of the ill effects of low opportunity areas will repeat themselves as well. The regional Opportunity Collaborative which has mapped the regional areas of high and low opportunity gave an inkling of that.
Vouchers sharply reduce homelessness and other hardships, lift more than a million people out of poverty, and give families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods. These effects, in turn, are closely linked to educational, developmental, and health benefits that can improve children’s long-term prospects and reduce costs in other public programs.

In addition, most voucher households that can reasonably be expected to work, do work. In 2014, 66 percent of non-elderly, non-disabled households using vouchers were working or had worked recently, while an additional 7 percent were likely subject to a work requirement under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
It remains to be seen whether the new winds from Washington will forge new majorities in Annapolis, whether policies that are oriented on protecting the socially disadvantaged will get more traction. Dundalk provided a good number of the so-called "Trump Democrats" in the last election. Democrats should learn from that.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

HB 172 Fiscal and Policy Notes
Capital News Service 
How to become a Section 8 Landlord