The settlement agreement with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) signed by Baltimore County in 2016 requires the next county executive to introduce legislation next year prohibiting landlords in the county from discriminating against prospective tenants who use federal “Housing Choice” (Section 8) vouchers to help pay the rent.
Al Redmer Jr., the Republican candidate for Baltimore County executive, states that, if elected, he will not introduce the legislation. Mr. Redmer claims that he will defy the agreement because of his opposition to forcing landlords to “go through the additional burdens and bureaucracy of doing business with the federal government.”
But I believe that his real motivation is to assure white voters that he will try to keep more people of color from moving from the Baltimore City to the county. And there is absolutely no chance that voters will miss that message: Fear of poor black families moving to the county has been a pervasive theme in Baltimore County for decades.
HUD and the other plaintiffs sued the county in 2011. They alleged that county policies resulted in the clustering of low-income and minority residents in poor and segregated neighborhoods, an example of the phenomenon known as structural racism.
The county’s incentive to settle the case greatly increased after a 2015 Supreme Court decision holding that under the federal Fair Housing Act plaintiffs need not prove that racial discrimination was intentional, only that it was a result of policies that had a “disparate impact” on racial minorities.
The widespread refusal of landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers has had a disparate impact on black residents by keeping low-income black families out of certain communities in Baltimore County. It is similar in effect to the “redlining” by banks and other institutions from which the city still has not recovered.
If Mr. Redmer doesn’t understand the long-term impact of structural racism, he should read “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City” by former Baltimore Sun reporter and editorial writer Antero Pietila. From it, he would learn how large pockets of poverty in Baltimore produced gangs, crime and family dysfunction that in turn overburdened schools, police and other government services. In his zeal to prevent the city from spilling over into the county, Mr. Redmer could end up recreating the problems of the city in the county.
And, as we learned in the city, once crime takes hold, it doesn’t limit itself to the poorest neighborhoods. What would Mr. Redmer do then, build walls between communities?
Mr. Redmer appears willing to sacrifice the interests of elderly and disabled county residents of all colors to his desire to please white voters. According to the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, 62 percent of the recipients of Section 8 vouchers in the county are senior citizens or people with disabilities. And if a landlord sets a policy of refusing Section 8 vouchers, it must be categorical and applied to all tenants or it will run directly afoul of anti-discrimination laws. Bluntly stated: To refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers from low-income black families, a landlord must also refuse to accept them from the elderly and disabled.
The irony is that Mr. Redmer’s friend, fellow Republican and most avid supporter, Gov. Larry Hogan, has gone out of his way to distance himself from the racial divisiveness of the Republican president, Donald Trump. Mr. Redmer has taken the opposite tack, emulating the president by exploiting the fears and prejudices of white voters.
Pandering to racial prejudices is the last thing that Baltimore County needs from a candidate for county executive. Baltimore County has made some progress toward building more affordable housing, integrating neighborhoods and eliminating its history of structural racism. The consequences of reversing course now would be tragic.
David A. Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County attorney in 2014 and also served for five years as an assistant state's attorney for Anne Arundel County. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dplymyer.