House passes bill to ban discrimination by landlords against voucher holders

Bill to give Section 8 tenants more choice over where to live passes Maryland House.

The House of Delegates passed a bill Monday night that would prevent landlords from refusing to lease a home to a person merely because they have a government voucher to help pay their rent.

The bill is designed to give holders of Housing Choice Vouchers — often referred to as the Section 8 program — and other recipients of government aid more choice about where they live and help them move to more affluent areas.

It passed on a 88-53 vote.

The issue is especially controversial in Baltimore County, where voucher users are concentrated in both eastern and western neighborhoods and where some residents blame government subsidized housing for pockets of high crime.

"We have a lot of areas with a lot of section 8 that have become areas of high crime that we struggle to fix," said Del. Robin L. Grammer, a Republican who represents eastern Baltimore County.

The county council was required to consider a measure similar to the bill that passed the House under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It failed 6-1.

Republican delegates from Baltimore County sought to amend the bill before it received preliminary approval Monday afternoon. Del. Kathy Szeliga, the minority whip, proposed an amendment that would have exempted jurisdictions that have already weighed the policy from the provisions of the bill.

"Some of our jurisdictions have voted on this issue," she said. "Baltimore County, to be specific, had quite a healthy debate on this issue."

Del. Kumar Barve, the chairman of the committee that handled the bill, said he wasn't aware of any other situation where local jurisdictions were given an exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

"Although the word discrimination or the prevention of discrimination is not in the title of the bill that is the intent," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

The bill's supporters say landlords in many parts of Eastern Baltimore County would, however, be exempt from the law because they have high concentrations of voucher holders already.

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