UPDATE: The HOME Act has been signed into law.
Original story below…
The following is an op-ed piece from Baltimore County Fifth District Councilman David Marks…
On November 5th, the Baltimore County Council passed the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, on a party-line vote. I opposed this legislation, and here’s why.
If this bill was simply about discrimination, then the vote would be easier. The situation is far more complex, because property owners have legitimate complaints about doing business with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And the former County Administration – which entered into an agreement to require our consideration of this legislation – did not consult its own legislative body on the content of the proposed law. We did not need to pass this law that was developed without regard for the legitimate concerns of many constituents.
I am not comfortable telling property owners who have had negative experiences with the voucher program that they may not opt out of it. Opponents rightfully point out that doctors aren’t required to accept Medicaid, and grocers are not required to accept food stamps. Why a different standard should be applied to accepting housing vouchers is just not clear to me – or to the hundreds of my constituents who have communicated their concerns to me in recent weeks. Two wrongs do not make a right.
The lack of affordable housing opportunities – without access to public transportation, stores, jobs, and quality schools – is absolutely a wrong, and we as a county should be working on real strategies to improve opportunities. I have been among the strongest supporters on this Council of transit, including the Towson Circulator which would improve mobility for thousands of lower-income residents. But despite the disingenuous claims of a leading proponent organization, the legislation does nothing to improve access to jobs.
The title of this legislation is Housing Opportunities Made Equal. But in reality, the affordable housing agreement that requires consideration of this bill will have negligible impact on Baltimore County’s wealthiest communities where there are few rentals. Affluent areas will be untouched; indeed, the neighborhoods where some of the strongest supporters live will likely not be impacted in any way.
The conciliation agreement and the legislation passed last night does not equalize housing opportunities. It will have an effect on neighborhoods such as Seven Courts, Dunfield, and Ridgeleigh that are already experiencing a high level of housing rentalization.
The words behind the County Council dais are very clear: “Equality and Liberty Under Law Is The Foundation Under a Government of Free People.” We can achieve equal opportunity though a robust strategy that includes transportation, education, and many other factors—without sacrificing the liberty and rights to private property that are the foundation of our republic.
– Councilman David Marks