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Baltimore County Council to hear testimony on HOME Act, which aims to end income discrimination

Photo: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszeweski

The Baltimore County Council will open the floor for testimony next Tuesday for constituents to weigh-in on the HOME Act, proposed legislation brought by County Executive Johnny Olszewski earlier this month which he says aims to prevent landlords or property sellers from discriminating against prospective tenants or buyers on the basis of particular sources of income, alone.

If passed, the Home Opportunities Made Equal Act, which can be viewed in full here, will make it illegal for property owners to use certain criteria as a means of denying applicants from renting or buying property in Baltimore County. Such income sources include: inheritance, monetary gifts, pensions, annuities, alimony, child support and federal vouchers, which are used by low-income renters as supplemental income.

Proponents of the bill say those are steady sources of income and that passing the Act will allow residents to venture into other districts in Baltimore County in which they are currently relegated to limited choices which involve only low-income housing, known as Section 8.

Opponents say the legislation would allow the government too much control over owners’ decision-making when considering future tenants or home buyers.

A similar bill, proposed under the previous Kevin Kamenetz administration, failed to gain the council’s support in 2016.  Woodstock Democrat, Councilman Julian Jones, the lone supporter of the bill, was outvoted six-to-one.

When Olszewski introduced the legislation earlier this month, he said, “We have both a legal and moral obligation to expand access to affordable housing in Baltimore County, and the HOME Act is a critical piece of the puzzle. Discrimination of any kind is wrong, and we have to do everything in our power to expand economic opportunity, improve equity, and eliminate pockets of poverty in our communities.”

If passed, those who violate the law could find themselves in legal battles, similar to other discrimination complaints.

A spokesperson for the Olszewski administration told The Gunpowder Gazette that applicants who feel they have been discriminated against would file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission. “It is my understanding that (the commission) would review the complaint and if it has merit they would forward their findings to the circuit court.”

The proposed legislation states that the HOME Act does not include limiting landlords and sellers from establishing whether potential buyers or renters can pay a set purchase price or rent, or verifying – in other non-discriminatory manners – other income that may come from sources, such as those derived from criminal activity.

Council members will take public comment on the issue during their scheduled work session on Tuesday, Oct. 29.  The council is scheduled to vote on the HOME Act On Nov. 4.

Other Maryland jurisdictions, which have passed similar legislation, include Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery counties.
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