Source-of-income Housing Discrimination Alive and Well—For Now

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August 3, 2016; Washington Post, “Wonkblog”

After the Baltimore County Council defeated a proposal that would prevent housing discrimination against households with a housing choice voucher (HCV), Emily Badger, Washington Post columnist, called out this “pervasive form of housing discrimination that’s still legal.”

In her article, Ms. Badger explains that “source of income” (SOI) legislation has been enacted and challenged around the country as communities grapple with this loophole in federal fair housing laws. By adopting a “no Section 8” policy, landlords can largely exclude prospective renters based on race, gender, and familial status because female-headed minority families are overrepresented in HCV programs.

Ms. Badger’s article goes on to recount other examples of how Maryland’s Baltimore County, which consists of largely white inner ring suburbs around the City of Baltimore, has worked to keep African American households bottled up in the city. She cites a 1970 case where HUD withheld sewer funding from Baltimore County for promoting racial segregation. This past year, advocates have charged that the state of Maryland has assisted in keeping low-income Baltimore residents away from suburban employment opportunities by vetoing a mass transit plan and investing in “inner city redevelopment” as an alternative.

HUD involvement in the Baltimore County proposal is significant. Opponents of the proposal argued that they were being forced to consider SOI protection because of a “big government” settlement of a fair housing complaint to which the county was not a party. HUD’s understanding of the dispute differs from the County Council: “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced a settlement agreement with Baltimore County, Maryland to expand affordable housing in higher opportunity areas throughout the County.” Among the remedies in this Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) is: “Seek the enactment of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on source of income.” However, the details in the VCA suggest that the time of enactment may be stretched out until 2019.

Failure to comply with the VCA could put at risk a host of Federal assistance grants that come to the County.

All this controversy comes at a time when Baltimore’s race and inequality issues are already under a spotlight. A new book called Coming of Age in the Other America charts the course of a cohort of young people in Baltimore who had the chance to use an HCV to move to “slightly better” neighborhoods within the city limits. Authors DeLuca, Clampett-Lundquist, and Edin write, “Few would argue that it was not a good idea to get families out of the distressed high-rises, but entirely different policies are required to help them reach higher-opportunity neighborhoods.”—Spencer Wells