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Measure would prohibit landlords from discriminating against Section 8

Bonnie Celmer had been on the waiting list for Section 8 housing since July when she finally got a voucher three weeks ago. She's still living in a Baltimore County homeless shelter, unable to find an apartment.

"I've been looking for a place, but I can't get anybody to accept the voucher," the 59-year-old said.

Celmer spoke to a crowd of more than 100 gathered Wednesday evening at Towson United Methodist Church to support a proposal that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on their sources of income.

Such legislation failed in the state legislature this year, but Del. Steve Lafferty, a Baltimore County Democrat, plans to introduce it again in 2012.

Under the Maryland Home Act, a landlord would not be able to deny a potential tenant housing based solely on their participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program — known as Section 8 — or uses other housing vouchers, such as rental assistance for veterans.

"Landlords are not required to accept those, and as a result, you have a high number of people who are still without reasonable places to live in the jurisdictions where they want to live," Lafferty said. "As rents go up, people who have a very modest income are going to have an even tougher time finding places."

The proposal would not prevent landlords from conducting background checks on prospective tenants or making sure they have enough money to pay the rent each month, he said, adding that the bill would also prevent discrimination against people who receive Supplemental Security Income or alimony.

Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless sponsored the rally, and a variety of social advocacy, civic and religious groups are backing the measure.

Speakers at the rally said Baltimore County is the state's most racially segregated jurisdiction, and that the bill would help create more mixed-income communities and deconcentrate poverty.

Between 2000 and 2008, the county lost 20,000 housing units affordable to families earning $50,000 or less, they said.

Lafferty introduced the measure this year, but it did not pass committee. Other lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed similar bills in previous years, he said.

The Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore opposes the idea, said the group's president, Benedict J. Frederick III.

Frederick said he's familiar with the Baltimore City housing office, though not the county's. He said the rules the city agency follows are "quite burdensome."

"If the Section 8 program is such a great program, then landlords would participate in it voluntarily," he said. "You can't compel somebody to enter into a contract with another person."

Howard, Montgomery and Frederick counties already have laws prohibiting discrimination based on source of income, according to rally organizers.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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