EVERYONE who supported a change in Howard County's fair-housing laws may have meant well. But the County Council took a big risk by giving landlords the option of placing a ceiling on the number of tenants whose rent is subsidized by the government. The council recently passed a bill letting landlords turn away low-income families once a 20-percent threshold of subsidized tenants is reached.
The action was taken to save the fair-housing law: Some landlords have threatened to file suit to dismantle it. These landlords claim the marketability of their apartment complexes is reduced when too many low-income families move in.
Housing officials hope the ability to limit low-income tenants will keep some landlords from dropping out of the subsidized housing program and encourage others to participate. That is a worthy goal.
Most housing in affluent Howard County isn't affordable to low-income families. But there is a risk that the already small number of apartments that low-income families can afford will shrink further with the housing law change.
Landlords crying about their apartments being stigmatized as "projects" need to think about why that may be happening. Is it because they lease many of their units to people whose rent is subsidized? Or is it because they have not been good landlords who have kept their developments attractive and rented to responsible tenants, regardless of income?
The County Council has removed one excuse for landlords not eager to participate in the subsidized housing program. They no longer have to fear their developments will be "overrun" by tenants with Section 8 certificates.
The next step must be taken. The county housing department and the council must make sure the change in law doesn't result in the poor being forced to live in less affordable housing. Howard is a fine place to live, with good schools and efficient public services. Government should be making it easier for families to move here, not harder.
Pub Date: 6/16/98