By Corey Johns.
On October 7, 2019 the Housing Opportunity Made Equal (HOME) Act was introduced to the council council. The purpose of this bill is to prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income, such as alimony, child support, Social Security, disability benefits, inheritance, a pension, or, Housing Choice Vouchers. A housing voucher is a source of supplemental income that helps low income residents pay for housing.
This bill failed to pass in 2016, the last time it was introduced, by a vote of 6-1. Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Baltimore County must now introduce this bill every calendar year until its passage or be met with significant legal action by the federal government.
The HOME Act certainly has had a lot of negative reaction, but much of it is based on myths, especially concerning housing choice vouchers. Below I debunk eight concerns that are often brought up about the HOME Act.
Myth: Section 8 leads to more crime.
Fact: If you are on subsidized housing and convicted of a crime, you no longer have access to the housing choice voucher. Areas with an over-abundance of housing choice vouchers do see higher crime rates. However, it is at no higher rate than any area with concentrations of poverty. The HOME Act would actually help prevent these areas of concentrated poverty by providing more choice of where people can live, which helps reduce crime.
Furthermore, while crime can be committed by anybody, nearly 70-percent of housing choice voucher recipients are seniors, people with disabilities, or children.
Myth: Section 8 houses are loaded up with too many people living in one house.
Fact: It is currently illegal in Baltimore County to have more than two unrelated adult individuals living in one rental property.
Myth: Undocumented immigrants are taking our tax dollars and are getting housing vouchers.
Fact: Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for housing choice vouchers or any other federal public benefits.
Myth: Landlords cannot deny anybody with a housing voucher for any reason.
Fact: Landlords are still free to run background checks for criminal or financial history as well as tenant history. If a tenant has a history of bad credit and it is determined they will not be able to consistently pay rent, have a history of damaging properties, or have a criminal background that is worrisome to the landlord, they may still be denied the rental. The HOME Act simply prevents a landlord from refusing to accept a housing choice voucher as part of their payment, just as renters cannot be discriminated against by race, sex, religion, and other legally protected groups.
Myth: There are no limits to the number of housing vouchers that could be accepted in Baltimore County.
Fact: The HOME Act will not provide additional vouchers in Baltimore County. The county currently has a 10-year waitlist to receive a housing choice voucher.
Myth: Communities that accept housing vouchers see a decrease in property values.
Fact: A study by Rebecca Diamond and Timothy McQuade of the Stanford Business School, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows that neighborhoods with a median salary below $26,000 see a 6.5-percent increase in property values. This study analyzed 129 counties and in total the counties saw a positive economic impact of approximately $104 million.
Myth: If a person has a housing choice voucher and destroys the property or does not pay their portion of the rent they cannot be evicted.
Fact: There are 17 grounds on which a landlord can evict a tenant, all of which apply to a renter using a housing choice voucher. The only additional step in evicting a renter using a housing choice voucher is that the landlord must notify the housing authority that the renter is using a voucher when they file to evict them as part of the regular eviction process.
Myth: The HOME Act would force a Baltimore County landlord to accept housing choice vouchers from any other jurisdiction outside Baltimore County.
Fact: Housing choice vouchers are funded federally but administered and regulated locally. A voucher issued by a jurisdiction has to be used in that jurisdiction. Should a recipient decide to move to a new area, they would have to transfer their voucher to the new jurisdiction’s authority.
For more information about the HOME Act in Baltimore County, download the County Executive’s flyer.