Say “No” to a % Cap

Source of Income Discrimination Is A Civil Rights Issue – Say “No” to a % Cap

Housing and civil rights are an integral part of each other… Housing is advanced in the interest of the general welfare and in the interest of strengthening democracy. When you separate civil rights from housing you weaken that general welfare.
–Congressman Vito Marcantonio of New York

The Maryland Multi Housing Association is pushing for a percentage “cap” amendment that would allow landlords to impose a cap on persons whose source of income includes a voucher. In other words, the amendment would allow landlords to discriminate based on the tenant’s source of income once a certain percentage of the residents of an apartment complex use vouchers to rent their respective units. The Baltimore County Voters for Fair Housing Coalition strongly opposes any such cap. 

Allowing Landlords to Impose a % Cap Is Morally Inconsistent With Fair Housing And Civil Rights.

As a society we would never stigmatize any other protected class (e.g., race, gender, disability) as undesirable and place a cap on the number of individuals from that protected class who could live in an apartment building. Yet, by placing a cap of on voucher holders, the County would stigmatize voucher holders in a way that directly contravenes the equality of opportunity for all people at the center of fair housing law and equal protection.

The Percent Cap Amendment Will Make The Source of Income Law Less Effective.

Out of the 12 states and over 75 jurisdictions that have source of income discrimination laws, only two jurisdictions, Howard County and Baltimore City, chose to implement it with language that would allow landlords to cap the number of voucher holders. Baltimore City’s cap will expire and sunset in four years.  Voucher holders in cities and jurisdictions that have passed source of income bans, from Frederick, MD to San Francisco, CA, gain greater access neighborhoods with lower-poverty rates.1 These jurisdictions do not have caps. Such a cap is unnecessary and likely counter-productive.  By allowing landlords to implement a percent cap, voucher holders will still be turned away once that cap is reached and will remain concentrated in their current areas.

A bill with a percent cap amendment will not satisfy the requirements of the conciliation agreement

If the County Council does not pass a bill substantially the same as a clean bill, the Agreement requires the County Executive to bring this bill back each year for the next nine years. There is nothing “substantially the same” as a law with a cap.

The Percent Cap Amendment Will Make The Law Practically Unenforceable.

The amendment does not provide any means for a fair housing organization to know whether a building has met the percent cap level. If an enforcement organization receives a complaint that an apartment complex is discriminating based on source of income, it will have no way to know whether such discrimination is legal, i.e., whether the apartment complex has met the 10% or 20% figure. We understand that groups like the Equal Rights Center tried to enforce the Howard County law but have not been successful. The housing authority in Howard County, citing federal privacy laws, refused to disclose voucher percentages in particular buildings. Source-of-income discrimination laws are already difficult to enforce. This amendment would make enforcement practically impossible.

1 Lance Freeman, Yunjing Li, “Do Source of Income (SOI) Anti-Discrimination Laws Facilitate Access to Better Neighborhoods?”, 29 Journal of Housing Studies 1 (2011)