Tag Archives: Baltimore County

Latest mandatory-Section-8 push in Baltimore County

Last year I wrote:

In principle, the federal housing-voucher program known as Section 8 ought to win points as a market-oriented alternative to the old command-and-control approach of planning and constructing public housing projects. While allowing recipients wider choice about where to live, it has also enabled private landlords to decide whether to participate and, if so, what mix of voucher-holding and conventionally paying tenants makes the most sense for a location….

For landlords, participation in the program has long carried with it some significant burdens of inspection, certification, and reporting paperwork. So long as participation was voluntary, these conditions were presumably worth it in exchange for the chance to reach voucher-holders as a class of potential tenants. When accepting Section 8 tenants stops being a voluntary choice, however, the balance is likely to shift. And one of the big policy pushes of the past decade — zealously promoted by the Obama administration — was the local enactment of laws and ordinances prohibiting so-called source-of-income discrimination, which in practice can mean making it a legal offense for a landlord to maintain a policy of declining Section 8 vouchers.

Since then, battles over whether landlord participation in Section 8 should remain voluntary have continued to flare around the country. While progressive litigators have thus far failed to derive an obligation to participate from the “disparate-impact” branch of housing discrimination law, they have persuaded the American Bar Association to endorse laws along these lines. Among the many local battles is a long-running controversy in Baltimore County, Maryland, the subject of this useful opinion piece in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun by local businessman Ben Frederick III.

It is sometimes claimed that to not participate in the program is to “discriminate” against voucher-holders, and suggestions of proxy racial discrimination are often not far behind. But as Frederick notes, landlords (many of whom are minority themselves) object above all to the strings:

There is nothing discriminatory about a person who has invested their life savings in a rental property deciding that they do not want to lose two month’s rent while waiting for a voucher holder to be approved and move in before they begin seeing rent; or from refusing to sign a federally mandated 12-page lease addendum; or from being subject to the whims of government funding for approval for how much rent might be paid; or from being subjected to annual inspections that are unpredictable and inconsistent, where the government will stop paying rent if the rental unit needs repairs, even if tenants abuse and damage the property.

Johns Hopkins study last year for HUD of low-rent housing markets in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas found that among landlords who chose not to participate in the voucher program, “the primary reasons stated were negative experiences with the program itself, including frustration with the inspection process, general bureaucracy, and disappointment when the PHA [public housing authority] did not take the landlord’s side in conflicts between landlord and tenant.”

Frederick notes that other landlords can and do build a business model around serving Section 8 users. That might involve developing standardized procedures, hiring and training staff with an eye to compliance know-how, and cultivating relationships with government actors. This is all more easily done at scale by adequately capitalized entrants in the rental property market. As it happens, however, the ranks of real-world landlords — perhaps especially in less affluent communities with older housing — include many mom-and-pop landlords short on the skill and inclination needed to pull this off.

Other government voucher programs, Frederick points out, get along with voluntary provider participation. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72% of physicians accept Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor; 75% of food retailers, including grocery stores, convenience food stores and farmer’s market retailers, accept SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.” In both cases, shouldering the regulatory burdens gives them access to valuable customer markets. But when they don’t find the burdens worth it, no one compels the doctors and food retailers to participate (at least not yet.)

“As business owners,” Frederick writes, “landlords should be free to make the same choice.” Indeed. [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; earlier)

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Got no use for logical cops

Sentences worth pondering, from coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s employment-practices suit against Baltimore County: “The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit alleges are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.” Critics take heart, however: “County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the police department has discontinued the test.” [Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun] (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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Will Baltimore County force landlords to take Section 8?

In Baltimore County, county executive Kevin Kamenetz has introduced a bill to ban “housing voucher discrimination,” that is to say, a bill requiring landlords to take Section 8 tenants. “Kamenetz is required to introduce the bill as part of a housing discrimination settlement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that was reached this year. … If [it] does not pass the County Council, the HUD settlement requires it to be reintroduced in future years.” Landlords and property owners say that it is unfair to force them to enroll against their will in a program with cumbersome paperwork and inspections. [Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun] HUD is now arm-twisting jurisdictions nationwide into enacting these bad laws; earlier here (bad renter trashes unit), here, etc. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

Update: County council votes down bill [Baltimore Campaign for Liberty]

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The Democratic primary results: Baltimore suburbs not keen on Brown

The Democrats this year had reasonably lively three-way races for both governor (Brown v. Gansler v. Mizeur, 51-24-22) and attorney general (Frosh v. Cardin v. Braveboy, 50-30-20). County-by-county results are available here. (Two weeks ago I analyzed the Frederick County primary results.) The results confirm much of the conventional wisdom about the various candidates’ appeal, and add a cautionary note for Democrats: their gubernatorial candidate, Anthony Brown, is running into trouble in the Baltimore suburbs.

Governor. Brown rolled up huge margins in Prince George’s, Charles, and running mate Ken Ulman’s Howard County, won Montgomery and Baltimore City big, and carried Frederick, Anne Arundel, and Calvert comfortably. Across the rest of the state he was at least competitive everywhere, running third only in Carroll. But Brown significantly underperformed his statewide 51 percent in suburban Baltimore County (38-30-29), perhaps signaling an opening for Republicans there — more on that below — as well as adjacent Harford (34-32-29) and Carroll.

Mizeur easily bested Gansler for second place in Baltimore City (53-16-29) and won narrower second-place finishes in Frederick and Howard. She ran extremely poorly, at less than 10 percent, in P.G. (77-15-7), despite picking a running mate from that county, and in Charles (64-23-9).

Gansler was not exceptionally strong anywhere, but managed to carry three counties where all three candidates ran competitively, Carroll, Cecil, and Queen Anne’s. Among his weakest showings were Baltimore City (53-16-29), Prince George’s, and Howard (59-18-22).

Attorney General. Cardin carried 11 mostly rural counties, including the three westernmost and most of the Eastern Shore. Braveboy carried her home Prince George’s handily but ran a weak third in Baltimore City, one instance among many of these two jurisdictions going off in different directions. Charles County was a close three-way race with Cardin ahead. Otherwise, Frosh carried all the central and urban counties and won by crushing margins in his home Montgomery County and in Howard, reflecting his dominant position with the educated liberal vote.

At a precinct level, I looked at Baltimore County, where Brown showed unusual weakness (38-30-29). The county gave Mizeur her best performance in any large jurisdiction other than Baltimore city; she ran strongly in precincts in Catonsville, Towson, and Lutherville, all with college-town, hip, or affluent voters. Gansler likewise found Baltimore County his best large county, and Jewish communities in Pikesville and elsewhere were just one of his sources of strength. In fact Brown, while sweeping African-American neighborhoods, often ran a distant second or even third in other parts of the county. There were more than 65 precincts around Baltimore County where Brown’s share of the vote was only in the teens, many of them in places like Arbutus, Essex, Dundalk, Phoenix, and Overlea.

Republican campaigners will no doubt be eyeing those areas as they begin considering how to peel away Gansler Democrats to vote for Larry Hogan in November.

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