Housing Availability Described As 'Lousy'

January 20, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

Gains were made in 1990, but much work remains for those confrontingcounty housing issues, said members of a panel that met Wednesday tooffer assessments of the housing situation in Carroll.

The eight panelists -- a cross-section of housing officials ranging from homeless advocates to builders to government housing administrators -- agreed that the past year was bittersweet for housing in the county.

Some encouraging steps were taken in Carroll during 1990, such asthe creation of a county housing bureau, and the expansion of a legal-aid bureau that assists low-income housing tenants in disputes withlandlords.

But the housing picture suffered because of the nation's economic downturn, which hindered the construction industry and clipped funding for government housing programs.

"There seems to be more to do than there is people and time," said Karen Blandford, Westminster's housing supervisor. Blandford is a member of the Carroll County Housing Coalition, a 1-year-old housing advocacy group that arranged the meeting at the Agriculture Center in Westminster.

The burgeoning no-growth sentiment in many communities hurts housing projects, as does a rise of "down-zoning," which stalls many high-density housing projects, the panelists said.

Group members said awareness of housing problems was on the rise in 1990, particularly concerning the need for facilities for the homeless.

"There's not enough of it," said Sylvia Canon, executive director of Human Services Programs Inc., a non-profit agency that operates the county's homeless shelters.

"But we've finally made enough noise and beat enough drums so that a few more people are noticing that now."

Blandford offered a nutshell view of the state of housing in Carroll.

"It's lousy, unless you make more than $42,000 a year," she said.

Although many housing programs have been affected by a slumping national economy and accompanying cuts in government housing budgets, one state official was able to offer some good news.

"Our budget was really left alone," said Lee Peschau, of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which offers home-ownership, subsidy and housing-rehabilitation programs.

The establishment of the county Bureau of Housing and Community Development probably was the largest stride made in the past year, the panel agreed.

The bureau, which was created under the county Department of Economic and Community Development, provides a base in Carroll for a number of housing services, said Marie Kienker, the bureau director.

The sluggish economy actually can present opportunities for initiating housing projects, said Martin K. P. Hill, a Manchester builder. Developers often look to public housingprojects -- such as low-income housing or assisted-living complexesfor the elderly -- when commercial building enters a downturn.

"Builders are willing to work at cost, foregoing profits, just to have the work," said Hill, who operates Masonry Contractors Inc. in Manchester. "People in the industry are looking for any projects they can do to keep their people together."

Awareness of rights of tenants in low-income housing in Carroll should see some improvement with the expansion of the Legal Aid Bureau Inc., a government-funded organization that provides legal assistance to low-income tenants, the panel said.

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