11:15 AM EDT, May 6, 2013
As the legislative chair of the Maryland Association of Housing and Redevelopment Agencies, which represents the agencies that actually administer the Section 8 rental assistance program, it was disturbing to read the distortions in Marta Mossburg's recent column ("Forcing landlords to accept vouchers won't help the poor," April 23).
In addition to Ms. Mossburg's misstatements related to the Maryland HOME Act bill itself, which is merely intended to protect every person in the state as long as they have a lawful source of income, she instead focuses on whether the discrimination Section 8 voucher holders experience at the hand of landlords really makes any difference at all. Well, in my experience it does!
Section 8 voucher holders in Washington County move as far away from areas where poverty is concentrated as they can. When a family gets a voucher, in most jurisdictions they are given 60 days to find a unit that meets the program repair standards. Finding a unit for rent in a nicer neighborhood and then having the landlord say, "But I do not accept Section 8," makes the housing search painful, time-consuming and often a waste of gasoline.
For a family holding a Section 8 voucher, this message has to look like a fair housing issue, even though the discrimination is not based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, handicap or familial status. Thank goodness three Maryland counties (Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery) and two Maryland cities (Annapolis and Frederick) already have this law. Landlords who opposed passage of the HOME act just need to screen Section 8 voucher holders the same way they would screen any other potential renter. That is what we do.
Ms. Mossburg should know that landlords use the full security deposit they collect to cover damages — not some pot of government funding. Section 8 rent increases are governed by what is reasonable, not by any state edict (after all, this is a federal program). The bill won't expand the number of Section 8 vouchers, it will potentially just allow them to be spread around more fairly and equally. So Mr. or Mrs. Landlord, what is the problem with getting part of your rent automatically paid on the first of the month without fail and having someone else give you a free annual housing inspection so you will know if there are any tenant-caused damages?
Richard Willson, Hagerstown
The writer is executive director of the Housing Authority of Washington County.
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