Offer incentives for mixed-income housing

As a resident and apartment owner with 13 units in Fell’s Point, I attended the Baltimore City Council's legislative hearing regarding bill 18-308 "Source of Income" which requires landlords to accept government housing voucher payments (“Baltimore bill would end landlord source-of-income discrimination,” Dec. 4). The voucher program was designed as a voluntary program because the process is so cumbersome. To accept a voucher, a landlord must endure a 5-7 week underwriting and inspection process conducted by Baltimore while no rent is paid as well as annual inspections, a “lock-up” period requiring the landlord to hold the property during the underwriting process, and bear all of the credit risk because voucher payments are not available through rent court if the tenant breaks the lease early. Advocates hope this bill will help diversify neighborhoods and break up the concentration of poverty — a worthy goal that all of us should support.

I oppose this bill in its current form because the City Council puts the entire burden of implementation onto the private landlord. Government policies created segregated neighborhoods many decades ago, so government needs to bear the burden of fixing it, not the private citizen. To increase landlord participation, make the bureaucratic process efficient for both parties so it takes one week for underwriting approval and guarantee rent payments for the one-year lease term; tenants take occupancy faster and landlords receive prompt payment. Provide an incentive for landlords to participate by reducing their property taxes or by starting rent payments on the day the application is submitted instead of upon approval, 5-7 weeks later. Between the highest real estate taxes in the state, high insurance costs, high maintenance costs due to the old building stock, the new biennial private inspection requirement, lead paint inspections and fees plus separate registration fees, don't landlords bear enough of the burden already?

Council members, please avoid the temptation to take this quick political victory because it will inevitably create a bureaucratic nightmare for the business community and for the very people you hope to help. Instead, take the time to work with all stakeholders to create thoughtful, effective and lasting legislation that helps integrate housing while improving the voucher process both for tenants and landlords. The City Council has the opportunity to create goodwill with the business community, a sentiment that is currently lacking, while also solving social problems that plague our city. This bill can be good for business and good for all residents, but only if government becomes more efficient first.

Matt Garono, Baltimore

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