After trying to avoid being associated with federal housing subsidy programs, Baltimore County's executive and County Council are changing tactics in hopes of increasing local control of who gets help.
Acknowledging that federal housing programs will affect Baltimore County even if they ignore the issue, local elected officials are trying to add new standards for the priorities used in selecting recipients from among nearly 10,000 county families on the Section 8 rent subsidy waiting list.
About 3,800 families live in the county with the aid of federal rent subsidies.
The county housing office gives priority consideration to Section 8 applicants who meet at least one of nine federal conditions and who also work or live in the county. In practical terms, applicants who don't qualify for both kinds of preferences never get to the top of the long list, said county Housing Administrator Lois Cramer. Turnover is about 25 certificates a month for Section 8 housing, with a wait of two to three years.
Federal preferences for Section 8 include such factors as homelessness, being a victim of a hate crime, being displaced by fire, crime or natural disaster, living in poor housing or paying more than 50 percent of earnings for shelter.
Subsidized housing has been a political issue in the county since the first waves of white migration from Baltimore City in the late 1950s. Last summer's controversy in the eastern county over the federal Moving to Opportunity program renewed old fears about migrations of large groups of poor inner-city black people to the mostly white suburbs.
MTO is awarding Section 8 certificates to 285 poor Baltimore families to enable them to escape conditions in inner-city neighborhoods.
Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina of Perry Hall, who worried last summer that public outrage over MTO might cost him re-election, said the council was forming a committee to develop more conditions that county residents would need to meet to qualify for priority status when Section 8 certificates are awarded.
"This gives us a little more control," he said.
Federal income restrictions limit eligibility for the certificates and vouchers, ranging from a single person earning less than $17,300 a year to an eight-member household earning less than $32,600.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who opposed the MTO program during his campaign, wants to give preferential treatment to those on the list who can prove they work. "I want to give an incentive to people we are helping," Mr. Ruppersberger said.
Mr. Gardina said council members have suggested granting preferences for people on the list who are more than 60 or who are veterans.
Only 13 percent of the county's Section 8 recipients are elderly, Ms. Cramer said. She said 88 percent of the families are headed by women.
The only local condition that now gives a county applicant Section 8 priority consideration is if the family lives, works or both in the county. Mr. Gardina said he would like to limit that preference only to county residents, but Ms. Cramer said federal rules may not permit that. Mr. Gardina said he had favored a six-month residency requirement, but it is against Section 8 regulations.
The chairman said he supports Mr. Ruppersberger's work suggestion, which Mr. Ruppersberger said wasn't intended to make it harder for welfare recipients to get Section 8 certificates. "It's an effort to encourage some type of employment," Mr. Ruppersberger said.
The county also might like to "tighten" a local restriction banning anyone convicted of a felony within the last five years from moving into the county with a certificate obtained elsewhere, he said.
About 600 to 700 families in the county with Section 8 subsidies got them in other jurisdictions, Ms. Cramer said. The certificates are portable under federal law. She said her office examines each case to ensure that the recipients meet federal and local eligibility requirements.
The joint administration-council committee hopes to have a new list of preferences by the end of this month, Mr. Gardina said. A public hearing must be held before the list is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.