Thousands of Marylanders, mostly African-American, are denied housing based on their source of income, but efforts to mitigate such discrimination are finally making headway, advocates say.
For 20 years, advocates have been waging a battle to pass legislation, the Maryland Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, to stop source- of-income discrimination across the state.
Many landlords in higher-income areas with better economic opportunities and better schools were refusing to rent or sell housing units to prospective renters or buyers who receive government assistance to pay their rent or mortgage, advocates said. For example, only 33 percent of people issued vouchers in Baltimore County find the housing they seek.
“The idea that thousands of good people in our state are prevented from obtaining decent housing solely because the government helps to pay the rent is unjust, cruel, and unnecessary,” said Rabbi Bruce Kahn, a founding board member of the Equal Rights Center, a national civil rights organization dedicated to promoting equal housing opportunity.
About 60,000 Maryland families, seniors, single mothers and their children, people with disabilities, veterans and others rely on federally funded housing choice, or Section 8, vouchers, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics.
Among these households, 56 percent also rely on social security, supplemental security income for persons with disabilities, or pensions; 47 per cent are households consisting of single mothers with children; and 62 percent are African-American.
When these households are denied housing based on their income, they are often forced to live in veritable islands of concentrated poverty, where they are plagued by crime and poor health, and where the educational opportunities for their children are limited. Such discriminatory policies also undermine efforts to create less segregated neighborhoods and to provide greater affordable housing.
An October 2011 fair housing study commissioned by Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties found that a major impediment to mitigating this harmful discrimination problem in the region was “the lack of a state law prohibiting discrimination based on the basis of a person’s source of income.”
In the past four years, the Maryland HOME Act Coalition, an organization made up of 80 organizations promoting the passage of the Maryland HOME Act, ramped up its efforts to pass such a law, mobilizing grassroots support, lobbying in Annapolis and negotiating with opponents to find an agreement. But, those efforts failed.
“It is not often easy to get civil rights legislation passed through the Maryland General Assembly, especially when it comes to fair housing,” said Rabbi Kahn, whose organization is part of the Maryland HOME Act Coalition.
Still Kahn and other advocates believe there’s a silver lining. At the end of the 2013 General Assembly, the Senate version of the HOME Act legislation passed the Judicial Proceedings Committee when, for the first time, Sen. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), who represents the most segregated jurisdiction in the state, voted in favor of bill. But, on the Senate floor, it failed by one vote.
Though a vote was not taken in the House, the coalition believes there are enough supporters in that chamber to ensure its passage. Furthermore, Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign the Maryland HOME Act whenever it reaches his desk.
“When enough legislators look at the suffering through the eyes of the sufferers rather than through the eyes of those generating the suffering, the bill will pass,” Kahn said. “When enough legislators hear from constituents that they want the bill passed, it will pass”. Kahn believes that they are on the verge of finally getting enactment of the badly needed Maryland HOME Act during the next Maryland General Assembly session in Annapolis.
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