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Maryland legislators are considering a new law that would put an end to income-based discrimination in real estate. The Home Act would prohibit landlords from rejecting renters who pay with Section 8 housing vouchers.
There are approximately 23 million landlords in the U.S., and currently, they are barred from turning away potential renters on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital status, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, they are able to reject applications from renters with housing vouchers, thus discriminating based on income.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the vouchers are intended to “assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing.”
The program works by using federal funds to pay a housing subsidy directly to the landlord while the participating renter pays the difference. Ultimately, the landlord receives the full payment. Yet many landlords choose not to rent to individuals and families with this payment method.
Landlords who do accept Section 8 housing vouchers are often located in impoverished neighborhoods with poor healthcare, limited transportation access, and high crime rates. By allowing limited voucher acceptance in safe neighborhoods, the state of Maryland, supporters of the bill say, is perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Of the 86,004 real estate brokerage firms in the U.S., many of those in Maryland argue that the voucher program puts additional burdens on landlords. They have expressed concerns regarding rent limits, government approval for rent increases, constraints on evictions, and additional inspections.
Adam Skolnik, the executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association and owner of 34 rental units, believes that compliance with the Section 8 voucher program should be optional.
“We believe in the fair housing laws,” he said. “This is genuinely different than religion or skin color. There are undue burdens that go along with the vouchers and that’s why we believe this bill should never see the light of day again.”
On the other hand, proponents of the Home Act argue that the bill will protect voucher-holders from homelessness, particularly veterans and the elderly who are consistently turned down and forced to live in impoverished neighborhoods far from their families.