After almost 20 years of consideration, the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act was finally passed in the Senate chamber Friday.
“I think it’s really great,” said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, after the floor session. “This legislation’s gonna open up a lot of opportunity for folks across our state and I’m really excited about it.”
The bill was initially introduced by Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) in 2002. It passed for the first time in its history this year with a vote of 34-12.
The bill was not introduced last year.
After the vote, Smith thanked everyone who helped usher the bill through in the past, saying its passage is “a pretty big deal for some of us in the body.”
Should the House follow suit, and the bill is signed into law, it would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against prospective renters based on their lawful source of income, providing protections for people who receive alimony, Social Security benefits and housing — or Section Eight — vouchers.
House Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) announced during a meeting with housing advocates earlier this week that the bill will be heard in his committee.
“We will pass The Home Act this year to give all Marylanders a chance at better housing regardless of their source of income,” Barve wrote on Facebook. “This bill promoting fair housing has been a long time coming.”
During the bill’s hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee earlier this month, Smith said that 15 states and the District of Columbia have implemented these protections and that several Maryland jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have as well.
He said 115,000 Marylanders hold housing vouchers, and that 59% of those who do are employed.
Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. (D) testified in favor of the bill, saying that his county has more than 25,000 families on the waiting list to receive housing vouchers — so many that officials had to stop accepting new applications.
Baltimore County has a long history of housing discrimination. The county was legally bound by an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to end the practice, but it took the County Council several years to adopt its own version of the HOME Act in 2019.
“Simply put: Discrimination in any form is wrong, and this is an opportunity for us to see something about it and do something about it,“ Olszewski said.
At the same hearing was Jill Williams, a Coast Guard veteran who testified about her experience with housing vouchers after losing her husband and her home.
Williams told the committee that she quit her job as a commercial truck driver to become a full-time caregiver after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She suffered a stroke after his death, which, coupled with her joblessness, left her without a home.
Williams said she received a housing voucher for honorably discharged veterans, but struggled for a while to find a landlord that would take it.
“I was told this voucher would enable me to live where I wanted,” she told lawmakers. “Boy, was I wrong.”
Now off of the voucher and back on her feet, Williams told the committee she supports the bill because she doesn’t want anyone else to experience the same discrimination.
“I want to be clear: Many of us are not on vouchers forever,” she said.
“The voucher just helped me at a critical time in my life. I am the same person today that I was when I had the voucher.”
The bill passed in the Senate largely along party lines. Baltimore County Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier was the lone Democrat to vote against it.