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Balt. Co. rental owners aren't the bad guys

In suburban Baltimore County, the issue of making affordable housing available to more families looms large, as tougher requirements from the federal government are about to kick in and the county prepares for new political leadership. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

On behalf of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, we share the goal of eradicating poverty and providing those in need with opportunities for socioeconomic advancement. Whether it's the thousands of individuals we hire and promote in Maryland, our service training academy which takes individuals with no skills or education and offers them a free education and paid apprentice program, or the various community services our members provide, our industry prides itself on helping and housing others. While elected officials seek to formulate housing policy to provide more affordable housing options, enactment of a source of income law is not the answer.

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Source of income laws preclude landlords from rejecting tenants solely because they use federal Section 8 vouchers. This program might appear to expand housing choices for voucher recipients resulting in a de-concentration of poverty. However, the objective data from jurisdictions with source of income laws demonstrates that the effectiveness of these laws on locational outcomes is sparse. Studies have suggested that voucher recipients continue to live in neighborhoods they are familiar with rather than uprooting their family to another part of town.

Take Baltimore County as an example. For the most part, residents of Dundalk or Essex stay on the east side of town because their families, daycare providers, churches and or their support systems are located in that area. The same can be said on the west side if you grew up in Arbutus or Lansdowne. If you have a voucher, are you moving away from what and who you know? This law does not change the nature of people, they stay in areas that they know and feel comfortable in.

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The Section 8 voucher program, established by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development, is also riddled with challenges. For instance, it is and always has been a voluntary program. It should remain voluntary. Doctors are not required to take Medicaid. Grocery stores are not required to take food stamps. Why is this different?

Some rental housing providers have no desire to participate in the Section 8 voucher program for a simple reason – the governmental bureaucracy. Public housing authorities and HUD make this program onerous with extra inspections, paperwork including a qualification process and an inequitable HUD contract. If HUD loosened some of these burdensome requirements, perhaps more rental providers would participate in the program.

Lastly, "source of income discrimination" is a misnomer. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Service and the state of Maryland do not consider Section 8 vouchers "income." Rental housing providers accept all legal and verifiable forms of income. Rental housing providers are in the business of renting housing not turning people away. The name of this supposed discrimination is in itself a fallacy.

I challenge The Sun's editorial board to have an honest dialogue about this issue and other rental housing issues. MMHA represents the owners and managers of over 191,000 rental homes in Maryland. Our members are some of the best corporate citizens in the state. It is time for the paper to stop demagoguing this industry. The 834 apartment communities and scattered sites that our members own or manage are home to nearly 600,000 Maryland residents. We are actually the good guys and have grown exhausted by this newspaper's portrayal of us as the enemy.

Adam Skolnik, Owings Mills

The writer is executive director of The Maryland Multi-Housing Association.

Send letters to the editor to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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