A Misstep at City Hall?

Today, our Planning Department is holding a hearing on a bill that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against those who receive rental assistance from the government:  Section 8 or Housing Choice Vouchers.  While I applaud the City’s efforts to address the low-income housing issue, I fail to see how this will have any real impact.

My question lies with the enforcement of this bill — something that has been reviewed by the City’s Law Department (link opens a PDF), yet nobody has seen fit to examine the fact that state agency charged with enforcement is in charge of enforcing Maryland law, not local ordinances.  This issue is similar to the one brought up regarding Montgomery County’s minimum wage bill.  A state agency’s role is to enforce state law — this is stated in the MCCR’s mission, several times:

It is the mission of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights to ensure opportunity for all through the enforcement of Maryland’s laws…

The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) represents the interest of the State to ensure equal opportunity for all through enforcement of Titles 20 of the State Government Article, and 19 of the State Procurement & Finance Article, Annotated Code of Maryland.

You will note that it mentions nothing about local ordinances.  Also, under the MCCR’s mission, it lists the following:

Its mandate is to protect against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation and genetic information. In housing cases, discrimination based on familial status is also unlawful.

Nowhere in the list does it mention source of income.  At present, it is not against the law for a landlord to refuse to accept a tenant who is receiving rental assistance — over the past two years, various housing advocates and Maryland Delegates have attempted to pass a source of income bill, and both times the bill has failed to pass the legislature.

While I am in favor of protecting the rights of our most vulnerable citizens, particularly when it comes to housing — I think the City is doing those citizens a grave injustice by attempting to pass what amounts to an unenforceable local ordinance that will have little to no impact on behalf of these citizens.  If the City Council and housing advocates want to have a meaningful impact on the lives of Baltimore residents, particularly our very poor and elderly, they need to go back to the drawing board next year and pass a source of income bill that will be enforceable statewide.