Meeting The Need For Housing

Report Urges Changes In Zoning Restrictions

May 15, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Howard County will not keep pace with the demand for affordable housing in the next decade unless development restrictions are altered, arecent housing study says.

David G. Cramer of the non-profit Enterprise Foundation, an advocacy group for low-income housing, shares that finding in a 45-page report that will be the focus of a two-part housing conference at 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Howard School of Technology. The second session will take place June 11.

The conference is sponsored by the Howard County Housing Allianceand 38 other county organizations. The $15,000 report was paid for by the Columbia Forum. Cramer will brief the conference tomorrow on his findings and recommendations.

Cramer concludes that "current planned development" will not be able to accommodate the 7,770 new affordable housing units he says the county will need in the next decade.

The major factor inhibiting development of lower-income housing inthe county is the cost of land, which in Columbia now averages $75,000 per lot, Cramer said.

As a result, developers have turned to "market-rate and luxury housing." Currently, 52 percent of all low- andmoderate-income renters in the county are paying more than 35 percent of their income for housing, Cramer reported.

In addition to a shortage of land zoned for "town homes, apartments and mobile homes," Cramer said, River Hill, Columbia's last village, will not be allowedto build at as great a density as the previous villages.

A lack of community acceptance and an inability to get the kind of financing that would make construction of affordable housing profitable are also hindrances, Cramer said.

He said the lack of community acceptance comes on two fronts -- from people with "not-in-my-backyard attitudes" and from those concerned about "uncontrolled growth straining public facilities."

When affordable housing is built "as a small percentage of a larger, mixed-income project, . . the community has expressed little or no opposition," Cramer said.

He noted that while Columbia has 77 percent of the county's affordable multifamily housing,it also has the county's highest property values.

Despite currentobstacles, Cramer concluded that Howard County "can and should" provide affordable housing throughout the county.

To deal with the community resistance problem, Cramer recommends the county adopt a zoning policy similar to Montgomery County's Moderate Price Dwelling Unit program.

"Mandatory inclusionary" zoning would specify the percentage of a development that must be set aside for affordable housing. It also would provide builders a density bonus, specify a minimum project size, and require that a portion of the units be offered to the county housing commission or to regional non-profit groups that subsidize housing.

Land costs could be lowered by implementing other zoning regulations, Cramer said. For example, he recommends zoning changes that would enlarge the county's town home and apartment stock, exempt affordable housing from impact fees and adequate facilities ordinances, and eliminate unnecessary building code and subdivision requirements.

In addition, surplus land from seven school sites "can andshould" be offered as parcels for residential development, Cramer said.

He recommends increasing the portion of transfer fees used forhousing, using the county's general fund to pay the operating costs of the county housing and community development offices, and creatingprivate-sector programs in which employers provide loan guarantees or down payment assistance to attract new employees.

Following Cramer's presentation tomorrow night, a panel of housing and land-use experts will discuss his findings and hear comments from the audience.

The fee for both tomorrow night's session and the June 11 follow-upis $14, or $2 for low-income persons. A light supper will be served both nights.

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