Baltimore County doesn't have the greatest history when it comes to race. In the 1960s and '70s, county executive Dale Anderson ran for office—and won—on a platform of keeping public housing out of the county. To this day it is the most segregated jurisdiction in Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun.
So it wasn't a huge shock when it emerged this week that the county is trying to duck its responsibilities when it comes to alleviating housing discrimination.
The county—which, despite its name, only governs the suburbs around the city of Baltimore—reached a settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year as part of a process to do something about its racial divisions. But on Monday, the Baltimore County Council voted 6-1 to reject one of the key provisions of the settlement: a law that would have banned a form of housing discrimination that frequently hurts low income people of color.
The provision was intended to block discrimination on the basis of something called "source of income." The proposed law, which the county executive was obligated to introduce (but not pass) under the terms of the settlement, prevented landlords from blocking those with Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8, from renting units.
According to the Sun, more than 6,000 Baltimore County residents—mostly clustered on the eastern side of the county—rely on the vouchers for their housing. Landlords in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods will frequently refuse to accept housing vouchers outright. Given that them median income for black Baltimore residents is about half that for white residents, this becomes a form of de facto racial discrimination and results in concentrated poverty.
Unsurprisingly, the county council's vote fell along racial lines, with the six white council members voting against the bill with the lone black councilman, Julian Jones, voting for it.
“This bill has been and continues to be about a very simple point: prejudice and discrimination," Jones said.
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, said she would not support the bill unless she received a guarantee that it wouldn't result in more voucher holders moving into her district. She was supposedly echoing the concerns of her constituents who say they are worried about property values and crime, but it's hard not to hear a racial undercurrent in this complaints.
Other opponents were even less subtle. One group that loudly campaigned against the bill, the Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty, claimed it would cause "a massive flood of Section 8" into the county.
"I don't want to be forced to bankroll a decline to my own community and I'm sure you don't want to either," campaign coordinator Mark Baskervill wrote in a call for contributions.
Thankfully, the anti-discrimination bill is only one element of the county's settlement to improve access to housing. The county has to provide $3 million annually for the next ten years toward building new low-income housing units. The settlement also requires the county also to reintroduce the anti-discrimination bill again in 2018.