About the Agreement
On November 11, 2011, three individual clients of the Baltimore County Housing Office and two local housing advocacy organizations, Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. and the NAACP, filed multiple administrative complaints with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against Baltimore County and two named appointed administration officials. The complaints alleged that the policies and practices of the Housing Office and County housing policies in general violated provisions of federal law, including, but not limited to, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The County and the individual officials denied all the allegations. Once such a complaint is filed, HUD is required to begin an investigation into the allegations and offers to serve as conciliator in a process designed to settle the dispute informally.
The County and the complainants agreed to engage in conciliation and then spent the next four-plus years in negotiations, which culminated in the agreement executed on March 9, 2016.
View the full HUD Conciliation Agreement (PDF).
Settlement with HUD and Complaining Parties
As the negotiations continued, the County concluded that it could arrive at an agreement while protecting certain core values: the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) would be preserved, reinforcing the County’s internationally acclaimed “smart growth” policies and protecting agricultural and natural resources.
Under the agreement, the zoning and development processes are not changed, nor does the County have to build or manage public housing.
The County did agree that there is not enough affordable rental housing for families in the County and that the best way to encourage more workforce housing was to assist developers financially with projects to increase this type of housing stock.
Finally, while the County would have defended itself vigorously in court, it was concerned about the risks of litigation, which, had the complainants prevailed, could have resulted in orders from the court that could have required the County to build its own affordable housing projects as well as cutting off millions of dollars in federal funding to Baltimore County, endangering the health and safety of thousands of County residents. The County could have also been required to pay millions of dollars to the federal government and the complainants’ attorneys in penalties and fines.
In 2015, the Supreme Court held that “disparate impact” in housing patterns must be considered under the Fair Housing Act. The basic point of that case was that even if the government’s policies are not intentionally discriminatory, a plaintiff can still prevail if she can show that the policies have discriminatory affect. The Supreme Court case would have made it very difficult for the County to prevail in the courts.
There are two main elements of the agreement: the creation of “Hard Units” and the establishment of a Mobility Counseling Program.
The County will take all necessary steps to cause private developers to develop 1,000 hard units over the next 12 years. That amounts to 83 units per year geographically dispersed over 132 census tracts in the County. View the map of hard units (PDF).
A hard unit is affordable rental housing resulting from new construction, substantial rehabilitation, acquisition, or existing housing stock.
100 of the units must be wheelchair accessible and 500 units must have three or more bedrooms.
While discussion often focuses on Section 8 vouchers, the term affordable does not refer only to housing choice vouchers. In the agreement, affordable means housing available to families with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Though people with Section 8 vouchers will be able to move into these dwelling units, they may be occupied by anyone whose household income is below 60 percent of AMI.
The County has established funding at $3 million per year for 10 years to leverage financing for the creation of Hard Units.
All units must have deed restrictions providing for 15 years of affordability.
The County will operate a Mobility Counseling Program whose aim is to offer expanded housing opportunities to families to avoid clustering voucher and other rental assistance users in segregated or low income areas. Within 10 years, the County must locate 2,000 families into certain defined census tracts.
With some exceptions, to be eligible, the head of household, spouse, or partner must be employed, in a training program, willing to participate in training, or is disabled.
The program must offer certain services to the participants, including counseling pursuant to a plan developed for each family; credit repair; financial literacy; housekeeping and maintenance tips; orientation on “good neighbor” relationships; negotiating and understanding a lease, etc.
The agreement also establishes a Modification Fund to help pay for things such as ramps and safety devices in showers for the disabled, continued support for housing outreach and education, and training for county employees on fair housing issues.
Zoning and Development Process
The zoning and development process are not changed by the agreement, meaning County residents maintain their rights to support or oppose bills, zoning changes and developments to the same extent as they have for decades. The County Council, state and federal judges, the Zoning Commissioner and the Board of Appeals maintain their rights to make the decisions they see fit in conformance with the applicable requirements of county, state and federal law.
Source of Income Legislation
The Source of Income legislation that must must be introduced to County Council is straight forward. It simply states that when considering an individual’s rental application, the landlord must consider government benefits like social security, veterans benefits, disability payments and Section 8 vouchers as income. Howard County, Frederick County and Montgomery County currently require landlords to consider these benefits as income. The County’s legislation would do the same.
Damages, Penalties and Attorneys’ Fees
The agreement does not require the County to pay any penalties to HUD. The three individual complainants will receive payments of $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000 and the County is paying $390,000 in attorneys’ fees plus $9,000 in expenses to be divided among the lawyers who represented the two organizations that filed the complaints.