Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman asked members of Maryland's congressional delegation this week to help stop a federal proposal that would cut the rental assistance offered to low-income families in Columbia, calling it "harsh and troubling."
If enacted, the proposal would force many of the area's Housing Choice Voucher recipients to move into "lower rent, less desirable communities with fewer services and amenities and with larger concentrations of poverty," wrote Kittleman, a Republican, in a letter addressed to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and sent to other local lawmakers.
"This result is contrary to Howard County's and HUD's goal of providing diverse, integrated communities and affirmatively furthering fair housing," he wrote.
Currently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development considers Columbia separately when it calculates the rent limits for the housing voucher program, often referred to as Section 8. Those limits are updated annually and determine the subsidy available to families, who pay about a third of their incomes to the rent, with HUD paying the rest, up to the cap.
This year, as part of the 2016 fair market rent update, HUD said it intended to group Columbia with the Baltimore metro area. The change, disclosed in a footnote, would end a longstanding practice of treating the affluent community as a distinct housing market and lead to rent limits about 25 percent lower than current levels.
The proposal, currently in a 30-day comment period, also would reduce rent limits for the Baltimore region by about 4 percent. New voucher recipients could feel the changes, which were highlighted in an article by The Baltimore Sun on Sunday, as soon as next month.
In a statement, Mikulski, a Democrat, said she was "deeply dismayed" by the proposed cuts, especially in Columbia, and intends to take her concerns to HUD Secretary Julian Castro.
"I don't get it," she said. "Secretary Castro has repeatedly said he supports housing vouchers to allow families to move to communities of opportunity, and now he is cutting these vouchers. You can't have it both ways. At a time when the economy is still recovering and families are still managing to juggle expenses, these cuts will make matters worse."