Fixing Section 8 Tough new rules: Crackdowns on bad landlords, tenants will improve public housing.

November 20, 1996

OPPOSITION TO public housing initiatives in suburban areas lies only partly in class- and race-based fear and misconceptions. Some subsidized housing, indeed, looks awful. You can't blame people who take pride in their neighborhoods from objecting if existing Section 8 apartments are rundown and dirty. Part of the problem has been that Section 8 landlords have had little incentive to keep up subsidized rental units; they knew they would get their money even if their apartment buildings looked dreadful.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stopped turning a blind eye to landlords and tenants who abuse rent subsidies.

New regulations give local authorities power to penalize landlords with a penchant for poorly kept subsidized units by denying them new public-assistance tenants. (Previously, local housing offices could prevent landlords only from moving tenants into specific homes or apartments that failed inspections.) The new regulations also allow for the eviction of tenants who deface property or break the law.

In Baltimore County, the Ruppersberger administration has begun using the new regulations to help revitalize older communities, where most Section 8 units are found. Its policy exceeds some of HUD's recommended standards. Fifteen landlords have been denied new subsidized tenants. Also, the number of tenants whose vouchers have been terminated has doubled now that the county is cutting off aid to those who engage in criminal activity or abuse their rental units.

In Baltimore City, a crackdown on irresponsible tenants has begun, too. The city Housing Authority now requires landlords to fix problems in specific units within 30 days, or lose that subsidy forever. Other changes in standards for Section 8 landlords are in the works, starting with education programs for new and existing landlords.

These tougher criteria help ensure poor families a decent place to live. They free up vouchers for thousands of law-abiding, responsible families waiting for aid. They make Section 8 properties better neighbors. And they keep disreputable landlords from receiving more guaranteed income from taxpayers when they fail to hold up their end of the arrangement.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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