bill would give landlords right to refuse subsidized tenants FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 16 May 1998 11:16:10 -0700 (PDT)



  By Scott Wilson
  Washington Post Staff Writer
  Thursday, May 14, 1998; Page M01

Howard County housing officials are moving to give landlords the power to
turn away rental applicants who receive government housing subsidies, a
significant change in one of the most pro-tenant local housing policies in

Howard is one of only two Maryland counties that prohibit landlords from
refusing to rent to applicants based on their source of income. But
legislation pending before the County Council would allow Howard landlords
to refuse to rent to applicants who receive government housing subsidies
once 20 percent of an apartment complex is occupied by such tenants.

Introduced this month, the legislation has drawn little attention as the
council and County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) have been hashing out the
proposed $397.6 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year.

But debate is beginning to stir among African Americans, who make up the
majority of Howard's low-income tenants. The council is scheduled to vote
on the bill June 1.

Howard housing officials, spurred by local landlords, say the proposal
would prevent big-city housing problems by keeping low-income housing from
becoming too concentrated in certain neighborhoods. They say that apartment
buildings that accept too many low-income residents take on a stigma,
making them harder to market to tenants of varying income levels. Several
advisory panels in Howard, including the Human Rights Commission, which
monitors racial discrimination, have endorsed the measure.

"If an apartment building is perceived as low-income, then it hurts its
marketability. That is a fact," said Leonard Vaughan, director of Howard's
Office of Housing and Community Development. "We don't want the law to
undermine what we are trying to do, which is prevent all Section 8
[subsidized] housing from being concentrated in one area."

Members of Howard's African American community agree with the goal of
mixing income levels in all county neighborhoods, especially those with
large apartment buildings such as Ellicott City, Columbia and the Route 1
corridor in southeastern Howard. At the same time, some community activists
are concerned that county officials could be opening the door to
discrimination by beginning to allow landlords to refuse low-income tenants.

"The introduction of this concept is short-sighted," said Sherman Howell,
vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County. "The
primary reason why we have so many social problems is the inequality of
income. Why should poor people be discriminated against? There has to be a
better way."

Only 5 percent of Howard's rental housing is occupied by tenants who
receive public housing subsidies, according to county figures. The
low-income designation would apply, for instance, to a family of four that
has an income of $27,000 a year or less.

Although no apartment complex has reached the 20 percent level set in the
legislation, Vaughan said that some are approaching it. He said several
landlords have said they are powerless to stop buildings from becoming
entirely low-income complexes, which even affordable housing advocates warn

"We don't want to hurt our property owners by making them take more
low-income tenants than the market makes possible," Vaughan said.

Howard officials proposed the 20 percent rule because it was the same
figure used to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Baltimore
alleging racial segregation in the city's public housing program.

But Howell would prefer to see Howard move in the direction of Montgomery
County, the only other Maryland county that does not allow landlords to
refuse tenants who receive government housing assistance.

Montgomery requires developers to set aside 13 percent of a new apartment
or housing complex for low- or moderate-income residents.

Howard planners recently imposed similar requirements on the Rouse Co.,
which is planning to build 1,200 homes in addition to 1.6 million square
feet of commercial space in southeastern Howard. Howell said requiring all
new developments to contain some affordable housing would serve the same
purpose as the pending legislation by spreading low-income residents across
the county without introducing a form of discrimination into housing policy.

"There is a benefit to mixing income levels," Howell said. "The question
is, is 20 percent fair?


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