In a role that showcased strong leadership, Delegates John Olszewski, Jr. and Pete Lafferty spoke to a sizable audience at the North Point Library Wednesday night to discuss legislation titled - The HOME Act - that would reduce “a significant concentration of tenants who use a public subsidy like a Housing Choice Voucher (aka, Section 8), residing in the Dundalk – Essex area.”
In another excerpt from the handouts, the delegates stated, “Concentrated poverty is bad for neighborhoods, schools, property values.”
The three areas of Baltimore County with the most Section 8 vouchers in use are Dundalk, Essex and Middle River.
The meeting was attended by a variety of community leaders from North Point Village, Berkshire, Colgate, North Point Peninsula and Gray Mannor.
The Rev. Eric Zile from the Holy Trinity Church in Essex (himself a Section 8 landlord) started the meeting off with an invocation. Rev. Zile then went on to describe his experiences as a Section 8 landlord and the close association he had with his tenants whom he referred to as good friends.
Other community leaders expressed concern about the program and especially the high concentration of Section 8 in the areas of Dundalk, Essex and Middle River. Of the 5,573 total vouchers in the county, 1,494—or 27%—are in use in the three aforementioned areas of the southeastern section of the county.
Delegate Olszewski, Jr. said The HOME Act will not reduce the total number of vouchers but will distribute them more evenly throughout the county. In areas such as Towson, some landlords simply refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers. The HOME Act would stop this and treat it as discriminatory and a violation of law. Maps were shown to the audience that clearly demonstrated the high density of subsidized housing in District 7.
One handout referenced a Jan. 8, 2013, survey that found that 51 of 57 apartment complexes in other areas of the county with 16,576 rental units do not take vouchers.
In the Dundalk and Essex areas, 16 of the 22 complexes with 5,191 units accepted Section 8 vouchers. It should be noted that small landlords can still refuse to take the vouchers. This refers to more of the single family type homes.
Many community leaders complained of a lack of oversight on the part of government for not holding so-called slumlords accountable for the upkeep of their property. Many expressed frustration over the fact they have reached out many times to the county without a response.
Delegate Olsewski promised to look into this matter and provided the audience with contact information to deal with many of these concerns.
If you have an issue, you may call the Baltimore County Housing Authority at (410) 853-8990 and ask to speak to Ms. Marsha Parham.
In other areas that deal with upkeep, contact the Baltimore County Code Enforcement Office at (410) 887-3352 and ask for Ms. Robin Clark.
Ms. Fasanelli referenced two other areas that have adopted The HOME Act and have met with positive results. Both Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County have been utilizing the act since 2002. Ms. Fasanelli, who works with Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc., said, “This will also help our veterans who will need help in finding shelter while they deal with medical issues coming back from the wars.”
Ms. Fasanelli said the program does not impact the amount of vouchers but manages them more effectively. She said that the D.C. area experienced a 59% reduction in vouchers being used after the law was utilized. “It has no impact on medical care or education,” she said.
Ms. Angela Walker, a homeless person living in a shelter with two children, put a human face on the matter and spoke eloquently to the audience describing her plight and desire to be a productive member of society. After she revealed her struggles to the audience she received a loud round of applause.
I interviewed Ms. Walker after the meeting and was impressed with her ambitious desire to become a successful member of the community.
“I don’t want a handout,” she said. “I want a hand up. Everyone hits a bump in the road and needs some help at some point in their lives."
She beamed with pride when she told me she was accepted into The Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus. She became frustrated with seeing the abuse of the system by those who take away the opportunity from those who are truly in need.
For me, I came away from the meeting with respect for delegates Olszewski and Lafferty in their efforts to deal with this tough issue. I thought the legislation was fair and, with the proper management and oversight, it will work. Where our community stands now, the current system is not working.
It should be noted that the legislation, House Bill 168, failed last year but both delegates are more hopeful that this year it will pass.