Low-Cost Housing Void

September 27, 1990

The Calverton, a four-story, 13-unit rehabilitated building on East 25th Street, opened its doors this week to women who cannot afford market-rate housing. It's about time.

Sponsors of the $630,000 project expect a diverse mix of tenants, ranging from women with physical or mental disabilities to battered wives, the homeless and minimum-wage workers. All will earn less than $7,900 a year. Temporary housing options exist for such individuals, but many find themselves back on the streets when the time limit runs out. Some are even less fortunate: In a random sampling last November, Action for the Homeless found that 43 women were turned away for emergency shelters.

The Calverton fills the void for low-cost permanent housing for people who cannot afford the going price for a place to live. Area apartments rent for an average of about $315 a month. Based on the common yardstick of devoting a third of monthly income to housing, an individual earning the minimum wage of $3.65 an hour has about $162 a month to spend; a general public assistance recipient has even less, about $72 a month.

The Department of Housing and Community Development estimates that of 96,000 Marylanders at the poverty level last year -- those making less than $12,000 annually -- 40,000 had been forced to avail themselves of emergency transitional shelter. Another 30,000 are on waiting lists for subsidized housing.

The Calverton, a twist on the boardinghouse concept, was financed by a mix of public and private funds. It represents an innovative, workable solution to a problem that continues to bedevil government.

Federal rent supports, low-interest loans and developer incentives vanished during the '80s, victims of the federal budget ax. Tax reform has made the real-estate syndicates that built much of the nation's low-income housing in the '60s and '70s far less attractive to wealthy investors. As a result, the burden of providing affordable low-income housing increasingly falls to state and local government.

The Calverton is the first of three dormitory-style facilities on the drawing board and may serve as a model for others. Single-room occupancy housing has become an accepted alternative for low-income residents in places like San Diego, San Francisco and other West Coast cities. Now it could be Maryland's turn.

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