Bill requiring landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers sparks debate

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By Ilana Kowarski

Sen. Jim Brochin

Sen. Jim Brochin

A bill that would require landlords to accept tenants through the federal Section 8 program sparked a debate about civil rights on the Senate floor Tuesday.

The bill, SB487, is intended to prevent landlords from rejecting tenants that receive public assistance simply because they are poor. But critics of the legislation said that it would force landlords to participate in social welfare programs and make them do business with housing authorities that send rent checks late and refuse to pay market rates.

Baltimore County Democrat James Brochin said that a landlord from his district was owed over $36,000 in back rent from government housing authorities. He claimed that such stories were legion throughout the state.

Brochin argued that it was unfair to require landlords to keep dealing with officials that do not pay them properly.

‘Mandates Section 8,’ opponent says

“This bill mandates Section 8,” Brochin said.  “If you choose not to work with HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development], you’re going to have court action against you. If you start dealing with Section 8 and get tired of it, you won’t have a choice. You’ll have to keep doing it.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said that Brochin was “unfairly castigating” the legislation. As the lead sponsor of SB 487, Raskin said his sole mission was to stop discrimination and prevent ghettoization.

“I always stand with the underdog,” Raskin said, and he argued that his bill would enable poor people to escape slums and live in safe neighborhoods with good schools.

Sen. Jamie Raskin

Sen. Jamie Raskin

Raskin accused Brochin of “trying to tear down this civil rights legislation” with false allegations. He read a letter from Anne Arundel County Housing Commission CEO Clifton Martin categorically denying Brochin’s claim that the A&G Management Company was owed thousands of dollars in Section 8 rent.

“After review by accountants at both the Housing Commission and A & G Management,” Martin wrote, “it is apparent that there is no money owed to the company by the Housing Commission. To the contrary, there is apparent discussion that they may owe the Housing Commission refunds.”

Provisions include no rent increases

This rebuttal did not sway Raskin’s opponents, many of whom said that they were disturbed by the provisions of Section 8 contracts that said that leases could be terminated at any time without notice and that landlords could not increase rents without getting permission from the state.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said that those contracts were “unfair,” and that he was particularly concerned by a provision that denies landlords the opportunity to receive government compensation when Section 8 tenants trash their apartments.

Zirkin said that participation in Section 8 ought to be voluntary, and he said that this view was not incompatible with a concern for civil rights.

“I’m not in favor of discriminating against anybody, but I oppose this bill,” he said.

Opposition is bipartisan

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden

Several Democrats said that they would vote against the legislation, including Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore City.

McFadden reminisced about the moment in his childhood when he and his mother moved out of the housing project. He expressed concern that the legislation would require landlords to prefer tenants who received government subsidies and make it harder for people like his mother to get cheap housing when they are “paying their own way.”

“This bill is not about preventing discrimination,” said Washington County Republican Christopher Shank. “It is about forcing participation in a government program.”

SB 487 faced substantial resistance earlier in the legislative process.  It eked through the Judicial Proceedings Committee in a 6-5 vote, and similar bills have died in committee in 2012 and 2011. The bill was so contentious in the Senate on Tuesday that further debate was set for Wednesday.

The legislation also had enthusiastic champions.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said that his years as a teacher in urban schools made him realize the necessity of SB 487.

Ferguson said that many of his students grew up in ghettos with a heavy “concentration of the generational poor,” and he said that these children needed a way out of poverty.  “Passing this law is a way to ensure that people can have social mobility no matter what zip code they are born in.”


About The Author

Meg Tully

Contributing Editor Meg Tully has been covering Maryland politics for more than five years. She has worked for The Frederick News-Post, where she reported during the General Assembly session in Annapolis. She has also worked for The (Hanover) Evening Sun and interned at Baltimore Magazine. Meg has won awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association for her state and county writing, and a Keystone Press Award for feature writing from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions or comments contact Meg at:


  1. Charles Benjamin Hawley Sr.

    This is insane. How can the “Government” usurp my property owners rights by forcing me as a rental property owner to accept Section 8 tenants? I like and admire Senator Smith, but think he is wrong on this one. Isn’t the program working alright? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

  2. No judgement here, only fact!

    Don’t know about the rest of you but I have a long viable waiting list for my apartments. For your information, “POVERTY IS A CHOICE”. This is America and everyone chooses how they live. Just as the gun does not pull the trigger the person does,. Where someone lives does not create poverty, the people create their own poverty. The first question I would ask is, did you finish High School? If answered no, then I would ask, why? It is the multiple generations of parental neglect, that perpetuates poverty. Babies born to babies is another. Where are the parents? They certainly weren’t teaching responsibility in the home. Get the picture! I do not feel sorry for people who live like this. Changing where they live is geographical. Until you stop parents from teaching their children that living on public assistance is easier than getting an education, and working, they simply drag that lifestyle with them wherever they go. I do not feel sorry for them, simply because they made poor choices in life. I for one do not feel obligated to support their chosen lifestyle of poverty either. As a landlord, I will not subject myself or the neighborhood I live in to the poor life choices of others, regardless of how much the rent is.

  3. truth

    I agree with SMH. This is a truly biased article. The bill does not require landlords to accept “Section 8” – it means landlords cannot discriminate against individuals who use any lawful source of income. Big difference. Going back to the 60s, it’s the equivalent to saying you must accept black people, versus you are not allowed to discriminate against black people in housing.

  4. Jake from Dundalk

    Will Raskin and Ferguson want all homeowners to rent a room in their house for section 8 applicants, next?

  5. protectdpoor

    In my opinion, I believe this is a good bill…and it is a federal law (Civil Rights Act of 1965) that protects certain “classes” of U.S citizens against “housing discrimination.” One last note, we the peoples voted for it decades ago, the U.S Attorney General’s Civil Rights Office will enforce it, and has been enforcing it throughout all 50 U.S. Federal Jurisdictions. Great job Senator Raskin! Keep up the good work in fighting for the “underdog” (the poor), who need more voices such as yours. As a Baltimore City resident, I hope this bill passes. Great Job! Maryland Reporter in getting this information to the public (‘the People’).

    • Da poor

      I concur!

  6. SMH

    The MD Reporter has really outdone itself this time. Not only is this article the antithesis of “fair and balanced,” it barely even discusses the content of the bill itself. Shameful.

  7. Baffled

    No mention of the property owners rights?? If I was a landlord and this bill passes my property would immediately be for sale!

    • Crazy policies

      Yes I would sell my houses as well

  8. Don from White Marsh

    How “fair” is it to me that I work 2 jobs to pay my mortage to live in a so called better neighborhood, but my neighbor can live next door and get most of their rent paid with my tax dollars

    • Hard working American

      Some people do have diasabilities and provide a living to their families with help. Sorry everyone cannot be born perfect like you and the rest of the “perfect” citizens of the US. How about becoming united, instead of parting ways where trouble lies. I work my butt off, and have a disabled spouse. I think its important for people to know, and understand, steriotyping those who receive assistance is very unwise, and un-america. And then we question our corrupted government and society. People who make comments like the one above are a great starting point to answer the question

  9. James Bush

    This is a truly stupid bill. Has Jamie Raskin the sponsor ever seen a ghetto. A ghetto is formed in many ways. Cumberland for example is turning into a ghetto due to massive job losses first and now more fee increases leading to people leaving neighborhoods. Neighborhood abandonment is an example of a ghetto. McFadden knows what a ghetto is? Raskin does not what a ghetto is.

    • truth

      Have you even read the bill?

      • James Bush

        If people understood what Truth in taxation really meant how many people would of said we won’t be able to afford the taxes. You see the bill is as worse as Truth in taxation this goes over the top as unfunded mandates. Truth in taxation led to an increase in tax bills. Today the people of the eastern Shore has re-elected Norman Conway the architect of the increase in tax bills since 2000.

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