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Hundreds show support for housing bill in Baltimore County

Hundreds show support for yet-to-be-introduced bill to ban housing discrimination in Baltimore County.

A bill to ban discrimination against people with housing vouchers hasn't even been introduced to the Baltimore County Council yet, but hundreds of people showed their support for the measure Monday night at a council meeting in Towson.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is required to try to pass a law that would ban housing discrimination on the basis of how a person will pay -- including housing vouchers, commonly known as Section 8 assistance. Kamenetz must try to pass the law as part of a settlement of a long-running housing discrimination case.

Hundreds of people in matching lavender T-shirts packed the Baltimore County Council chambers Monday to support the measure, known as the Home Act. They were organized by Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless.

"Everyone needs a place to call home," said the Rev. Kristofer Lindh-Payne, co-rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Timonium.

The Home Act, he told council members, wouldn't be a burden to landlords, would still allow them to screen tenants and would help people with housing vouchers who receive Social Security.

Megan Goffney from the Community Assistance Network, which operates shelters in the county, said voucher holders are often unfairly judged and face barriers that others don't face when trying to rent a home.

"Let's not put everyone in a box," she said.

While the Home Act supporters filled more than half of the council chambers, a handful of people spoke against the measure.

Wayne Kern described himself as a landlord who is not interested in accepting tenants with housing vouchers. He said a real estate agent told him that voucher holders "don't know how to behave in a civilized manner."

Kern said he's opposed to the government telling him who to accept as a tenant, which he decried as "socialism."

And Karie and Randy Lorek from Perry Hall said it's not fair that other people don't work as hard as they do, yet still get to live in their neighborhood.

"I don't feel it's right for the federal government to push it down our throat," Randy Lorek said.

The council has yet to consider the Home Act, and the item was not on Monday night's agenda.

But Kamenetz is required to introduce the bill to meet the terms of a settlement with the federal government that resolved a housing discrimination complaint.

A few council members voiced support of the Home Act, including Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat who was cheered when he held up one of the lavender T-shirts at the start of the meeting.

A state version of the Home Act, sponsored by Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Towson Democrat, failed in this year's General Assembly session. The bill died in committee without receiving a vote.

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