Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination illegal. Standing with him are, Councilman Julian Jones and Sharonda Ellerby, a former Section 8 recipient who is currently a business owner. The event is outside the Historic Courthouse on October 4, 2019.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination illegal. Standing with him are, Councilman Julian Jones and Sharonda Ellerby, a former Section 8 recipient who is currently a business owner. The event is outside the Historic Courthouse on October 4, 2019. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski is making good on his campaign promise to try to remedy the county’s embarrassing and shameful track record of discriminatory housing that still persists today.

As reported by The Sun’s Wilborn P. Nobles III, the Housing Opportunities Made Equal plan would outlaw the practice of landlords refusing to rent to people who use federal housing subsidies — a longstanding norm that has locked low-income families out of certain neighborhoods and communities and created large concentrations of poverty.

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Legally, the county must do something to comply with a federal complaint made by the NAACP, housing advocates and three residents, but Mr. Olszewski is also taking a moral stance on an issue that is not popular with some county citizens and the majority of the County Council content with the status quo. Let’s not forget when the last administration brought this to the County Council, just one member voted in favor, although there appears to be slightly more support this time around.

Mr. Olszewski was an early adopter of the need for a more inclusive county and is on the record saying the federal agreement actually doesn’t go far enough. We applaud him for the political courage to confront head on such a politically divisive issue. It is the right thing to do.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination based on source of income illegal.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination based on source of income illegal. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The property rights argument used by the naysayers doesn’t pass muster when these homeowners are engaging in wholesale discrimination against a certain segment of the community. It’s no different than a restaurant owner or gym trying to enforce a policy against certain people coming to their establishments.

Not to mention landlords are making stereotypical and generalized judgments on people who could otherwise be perfectly good tenants. Credit checks, rental history, employment and other factors are much better indicators and would still be allowed to screen potential tenants.

Another worry from the critics — that poverty would end up concentrated in certain parts of the county — also lacks validity when scrutinized a little more closely. Discrimination is what fosters pockets of poverty, not the other way around. The agreement county officials made with the federal government makes a concerted effort to disperse the poverty. The bill is meant to create more options for low-income renters and not narrow the choices.

Let’s just call it for what it is: Certain people just don’t want to live around low-income residents.

As we have said before, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development really isn’t asking for all that much in the grand scheme of the size of the housing stock in the county. Under the deal, the county needs to spend $30 million over the next decade to entice developers to build 1,000 units for low-income families in more financially upward neighborhoods. Do the math. That is less than 1% of the 337,000 homes in the county.

The county must also move 2,000 families from poor, mostly black communities to more economic and racially-integrated neighborhoods — a minuscule number when looking at the issue broadly.

Efforts by the County Council to continually block progress are fruitless and counterproductive. The issue will not magically disappear; the federal agreement requires the county executive to introduce legislation every year until a bill is passed. Lawmakers also can’t stop the demographic change in the county that has already been occurring over the last several years, resulting in a much more diverse population, both economically and racially.

The county can ignore it or embrace progress. But have no doubt, the demographic change will continue.

Other counties have passed similar laws to prohibit income discrimination and we implore the county to do the same or risk continuing a legacy of supporting bigotry. While we’re at it, we hope the General Assembly gets its act together and revives legislation that failed last year and would have prevented income discrimination statewide. This is a practice no landlord in the state should be allowed to follow.

Baltimore County leaders may not be overtly still embracing segregation like they did in the past. It wasn’t so long ago that real estate agents were instructed to tell the police chief if they sold Baltimore County homes to blacks. Stubborn resistance to a remedy is no better.

Mr. Olszewski plans to introduce his plan to the council next. We hope the outcome is different than the last time around.

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