Being forced to live in areas of concentrated poverty and far from work are just some of the consequences many Marylanders face because of the state’s lack of source of income (SOI) protection laws, which require landlords to accept any legal form of income for the purpose of renting their properties. New, if limited, protections are now in place in Baltimore City, but the fight to pass an SOI law in the General Assembly continues, with advocates waiting to see how November’s election might affect prospects for passage.
SOI laws protect renters from being discriminated against on the basis of the types of legal income they use to pay their rent. While one of the most vulnerable groups that such laws protect are recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly Section 8), they also protect renters who rely on disability or social security payments, among others. Under an SOI regime, potential renters are still subject to any other requirement a landlord may have, such as a clean credit history or lack of a criminal background. SOI laws only prohibit arbitrary discrimination based on the source of income.
Currently, only Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery counties, as well as the cities of Frederick and Annapolis, have SOI protections. Just this summer, Baltimore City passed a bill which would extend SOI protections to any developments receiving municipal subsidies, including but not limited to Baltimore’s inclusionary housing subsidy.
Since 2010, the Maryland HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) Act Coalition (MHAC), representing approximately 80 organizations, has been fighting for passage of SOI protections statewide. In 2013, Senate Bill 487, the Maryland HOME Act, came within one vote of passing the Senate, and the coalition believes it has the votes in the House necessary for passage if the Senate can come together behind a version of this bill.
For Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project and the leader of MHAC, SOI laws ensure that people have the option to live near their jobs or families, but they also protect renters from unscrupulous landlords.
“We know that people, because of this kind of (income) discrimination, pay hundreds of dollars in application fees for buildings that never intend to take them because of the kind of income they have,” said Fasanelli.
For Rabbi Bruce Kahn, former executive director and current board member of the Equal Rights Center, a member organization of MHAC, SOI protections would also ensure that persons relying on housing choice vouchers do not lose that valuable assistance.
“What happens is somebody applies for a voucher and waits a very very long time to get one, finally gets it, can’t find—in the amount of time that’s required—can’t find a unit or a unit of one’s choice for which to use that voucher, to apply that voucher, and then has to turn that voucher back in,” said Kahn, who pointed out that most voucher holders are single moms with children, people with disabilities, the elderly poor, and veterans.
Both Kahn and Fasanelli point out that the lack of SOI protections in the state create poverty corridors where low or fixed-income persons are forced to live because their income is discriminated against in other areas of the state, forcing them into neighborhoods that may be far from their places of employment, their families, and good schools for their children.
Fasanelli is happy to see that Baltimore City now has improved, if not full, SOI protections, and says that prospects for the Maryland HOME Act in the General Assembly are rather up in the air until after the election on Nov. 4 determines the assembly’s makeup.