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In an opinion from Maryland’s highest Court this week, senior Judge Adkins noted that “public assistance programs are no mere charity…To discontinue such aid is no small matter and has consequences well beyond the single individual for whom the assistance has been terminated.” The Court of Appeals then reviewed the process by which federal housing assistance can be terminated, which is important for all persons involved in such aid, in a case called Karen McDonell v. Harford County Housing Agency (“HCHA”).
The opinion involves the Housing Choice Voucher Program, otherwise known as Section 8 housing. Under this federal program funds are provided for housing assistance to qualified persons, and are administered in Maryland by county agencies such as HCHA. Participants in this program such as McDonell must comply with program guidelines, or risk being terminated from the program.
In this case, McDonell fell behind in a payment plan to provide restitution to HCHA for an overpayment to her. This was in part due to her being convicted of two counts of assault, and being incarcerated. Following her release, HCHA sent her a letter indicating she was to be terminated from the program for failing to provide access to the home for a required inspection, failing to advise the agency she was not living in the home during her time in jail, her criminal convictions for violent offenses, and failure to make required restitution payments. She was granted an informal hearing, following which the hearing officer upheld her termination from the program, and the Circuit Court upheld that decision.
The case made its way through the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld the decision, and was reviewed by the Court of Appeals. The Court reviewed HUD guidelines and the law, and held that McDonnell was not entitled to a formal contested case hearing so that the informal hearing provided to her was proper. In response to her complain that the hearing was unfair, the Court found that her due process rights were not violated. It then held that the Hearing Officer’s written decision, while not full and complete, was supported by substantial evidence.
This is because the Court found that the convictions for assault were sufficient to show criminal activity to support termination from the housing assistance program.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.