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Lawmakers consider banning housing voucher discrimination

Maryland lawmakers are considering whether to ban discrimination by landlords against tenants who pay their rent with government housing vouchers.

Dubbed the "Home Act," the bill would forbid landlords from citing a potential tenant's source of income as the reason for refusing to rent to them.

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"I see this issue as one of basic fairness, of basic justice," said Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Democrat from Towson.

A Baltimore Sun investigation last year detailed how housing authorities have been providing more opportunities for voucher holders to rent homes outside of areas where there is concentrated poverty and subsidized housing.

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About 3,100 families have been quietly helped in moving out of Baltimore into more prosperous suburbs through a pair of programs created as a result of a landmark housing discrimination lawsuit. Another 1,300 families will be moved in the next three years.

Fair housing advocates say banning income discrimination is critical to expanding the availability of affordable homes outside of areas where poverty is concentrated.

Eleven states and 35 cities and counties have similar laws, including Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties and the cities of Annapolis and Frederick.

But the bill has failed in the Maryland General Assembly five times before. Opponents of the bill include landlords and real estate agents, who say they shouldn't be forced to accept government vouchers.

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Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, said he runs 34 units in Baltimore and accepts tenants with government vouchers. He told lawmakers it should be a landlord's choice whether to participate in the voucher program.

"This is not about creating more affordable housing. … This is only about making landlords accept Section 8 vouchers," he said.

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This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect an accurate time frame on when families will be moved out of Baltimore. That process will continue through 2018.

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