There's nothing homogenous about people who live in low-cost housing. Some are unskilled laborers. Others are employed as janitors, sales clerks, waiters and waitresses. Still others are on various forms of public assistance. In largely affluent Howard County, yet another group finds lodging in low-cost housing -- secretaries, police officers, teachers and technicians.
These people are integral stitches in the county's economic and social tapestry, yet few can afford to call Howard home. Now comes a report by the Enterprise Foundation predicting a serious countywide shortage of affordable housing. In the absence of a major policy jump-start, as many as one in ten lower-income Howard residents will be unable to find homes or apartments they can afford in the next 10 years. Already, fully 16 percent of the county's households need such housing because they earn appreciably less than $32,400, which is 80 percent of the area's 1989 median income. That number will be driven upward as Howard's employment base grows by an estimated 30,000 jobs over the rest of the decade; many of these are low- and moderate-paying service and government positions.
These statistics should send a clear message to Ellicott City. Affordable housing is no longer merely the right thing to do, but an economic imperative. County Executive Charles I. Ecker has made economic development a priority, yet this most basic component -- adequate housing for workers -- has rated little more than lip service. Past efforts have encountered rough sledding, thanks to residents concerned about the county's explosive growth and elitism.