Section 8 needs updating

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Sharonda Ellerby, a former Section 8 recipient, spoke at an event held by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski to announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination illegal.  The legislation passed Monday. Ellerby, who was a young mother, used the housing help to reach her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. She is now a business owner and in a masters program.

As the authors of the report cited in Benjamin Frederick’s op-ed (“Forcing Baltimore County landlords to accept vouchers is the real discrimination,” Oct. 28), we were thrilled to read that both the landlord and fair housing communities found value in our findings. Our goal was to reflect the complexities of urban landlording rigorously and fairly.

But, as our report noted, it is possible to support source of income protection legislation (as we do), while also recognizing that the federal government’s rental voucher program needs significant improvement. Indeed, the impact of this kind of legislation, like the policy approved Monday in Baltimore County, will be limited without reforms that improve landlords’ experiences.


All policies involve tradeoffs. In this case, the well documented benefits of expanding housing options for the poor — increased neighborhood options and lower failure rates for voucher families — far outweigh the costs conferred to a few resistant landlords required to participate. This is particularly true given the substantial benefits of participation cited by nearly all landlords in our study, a rental stream protected from the vicissitudes of the labor market.

As Mr. Frederick notes, landlords are primarily frustrated with how government manages the voucher program, not with the tenants. Some landlords harbored prejudices against poor African American families from “the city.” But the more common landlord opinion was that the vast majority of voucher tenants were responsible (and thus profitable) tenants.


This is great news. It is far easier to change a program’s operations than people’s prejudices. There is no reason for landlords to lose any rental income because of delays for enduring capricious inspections and negotiating rents and complex contracts. Such inefficiencies harm both landlords and tenants. Most fair housing advocates would stand with Mr. Frederick to urge reform.

But reforms demand resources. The federal government’s decades-long depletion of operating funds for public housing authorities is partially to blame for inefficiencies. Still, even longtime landlords recognize change is possible.

The Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership is an excellent example. The nonprofit administrator of regional vouchers and housing counseling is streamlining paperwork and frequently intervenes in landlord-tenant disputes, boosting positive perceptions among landlords who decry the standard voucher program.

Regardless of ideologies, we can all agree that voucher programs must function for landlords and tenants. We hope that both landlords and advocates will continue to push for local reform.

Allowing families with vouchers to lease units for which they are otherwise qualified in Baltimore County produces enormous benefits. They are safer and happier and their children are significantly more likely to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Providing this opportunity is a moral obligation that accrues enormous positive benefits to society.

Stefanie DeLuca and Meredith Greif, Baltimore; Eva Rosen, Washington; Kathryn Edin, Princeton, N.J.; Philip Garboden, Honolulu, Hawaii

The writers are authors of the study Urban Landlords and the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

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