By Charise Wallace

A bill that would force landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers in Baltimore County prompted a heated debate during a hearing last week. A change in county law both advocates and tenants argued was long overdue.

“We as a county arrived at this exact moment because past landlords did discriminate against renters on the basis of race, socioeconomic status and religion,” BCPS teacher and advocate said. “We can do better and this bill moves us forward.”

The measure known as the HOME Act, would prohibit county landlords from denying prospective Section 8 tenants access to housing. Section 8 is a federal program which subsidizes for low income renters. Currently, county landlords are not legally obligated to accept them.

But the legislation has the backing from some powerful officials, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz who says the county must do more to provide low income residents with places to live that are both affordable and safe.

“Vulnerable” seniors, single-mothers, disabled individuals, lower-income families and veterans are affected by land lords decisions to deny housing access to citizens living in northern, eastern and western parts of Baltimore County, which only leads citizens on becoming homeless and poor.

An advocate and disabled citizen, Myesha Allender is among those who attended the hearing. She is currently fighting to live in a decent neighborhood where her four children won’t have to worry about violence in their schools, only better opportunities.

“I just want to educate,” said Allender. “I’m out here advocating and I just want people to be educated.”

In 2005, Allender was involved in a major car accident that lead her to be paralyzed and eventually in a wheelchair.

“It’s really hurtful and discouraging that people look at you as a voucher holder and not as a parent or not as a human being,” said Allender.

Kamenetz spoke highly of Allender on Twitter (@kevinkamenetz) saying, “All Myesha wants is to be in a neighborhood where her children can thrive.”

Many HOME Act advocates came wearing lavender printed shirts that read “Home Act Vote Yes.”

The lack of legal protection for low income renters has led more than 6,000 people with a government housing voucher in Baltimore County without a home that they can call their own. This leaves them with no choice but to reside in homeless shelters and nursing homes, while children are often separated from their families and are forced to live in foster care.

“I try to stay away from a specific area, but an area where my children can get quality education, where the test scores are high, a shopping center where there are jobs for people with disabilities and where there’s not a lot of crime rate…that’s just a few, said Allender.”

“You know people that have a voucher are not always bad people. I didn’t have bad credit, I never committed crime and neither did my children. It’s kind of rough when people you know, look at you…as soon as they hear voucher out your mouth they look away.”

Allender says a lack of stable housing has had consequences, particularly for her children.

“My daughter went from being in talented and gifted classes, to being in standard classes and getting a ‘C’ average,” said Allender. “My son went from a momma’s boy, to getting involved in crime.”

Allender is temporarily living in a hotel in Randallstown because her current home lacks shower access. “I don’t even have a shower. I have to go to another location for a shower.”

Both Allender’s children currently attend Woodlawn Middle School.

“My children have anxiety,” said Allender. “Now we are getting counseling at Kennedy Krieger Institute because their anxiety is so high.”

This is why advocates say equitable access to housing is more than just a right.

“Montgomery County has had the HOME Act since 1991…study shows that students who transfer from high poverty schools to more inclusive communities perform a lot better in reading in math,” president of the Greater Hillendale Community Association, Lilly Rowe said.

“For those who oppose to the state…it’s another missed opportunity,” one advocate preached to the council members, as the advocates sitting down cheered.

According to the Baltimore Sun, County Council will have a public hearing on the housing discrimination bill on July 21. A vote will be determined on Aug 1.

“If it doesn’t get passed…there’s really no options,” said Allender.

Maryland Nonprofits sponsors this advocacy.

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