WASHINGTON – Maryland could get up to $16 million in new housing assistance under a federal plan that the White House and the Department of Housing and Urban Development hope will let low-income city residents move closer to growing job markets in the suburbs.
The program, outlined by President Clinton in his State of the Union address Thursday, would award Maryland more than 2,500 new housing vouchers designed to help low-income families pay the rent.
“The vouchers will give people more of an opportunity to get a job,” said Donna White, a HUD spokeswoman. “If you can afford housing closer to a job, you are more likely to get than job and then keep it.”
The $690 million plan calls for the distribution of 120,000 vouchers nationwide, according to Clinton. A statement from HUD said Baltimore City would get the largest increase, adding 842 vouchers totaling just over $5 million in the fiscal 2001 budget if Congress approves.
Other big winners in Maryland would include Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, which would get at least an additional $1 million each, HUD said.
Baltimore City Housing Authority spokesman John Wesley said he is happy with the proposed increase and would like to see more, noting that the city currently has 2,411 people on a voucher waiting list.
“[The vouchers] are important in two areas,” he said. “First, they put people on a waiting list for affordable housing, but they also help people move from welfare to work.”
Clinton’s proposal was also welcomed by Gov. Parris Glendening, according to a spokeswoman, who said the governor supports any new vouchers for Maryland residents.
“The governor pushes for programs that help working poor live a little a better,” said Racquel Guillory, the spokeswoman. “[The vouchers] make good sense.”
She also said that the vouchers are in line with Smart Growth policies, backed by both Glendening and Clinton, which advocate for developing existing communities and limiting suburban sprawl.
Shanna Smith, executive director of the Washington-based National Fair Housing Alliance, praised the plan but said she wished HUD would do more to combat discrimination against low-income residents who use vouchers.
“You can give people vouchers, but you can’t ensure fair housing,” Smith said. “Vouchers can also limit where recipients can move, especially if competition is keen.”
White said HUD is doing all it can to run the voucher program fairly.
“HUD does include itself in fair housing,” she said. “We push to make sure that vouchers are worth a market rate and that recipients are treated fairly.”