Commissioners Vow To Keep Housing Door Open

Make It More Affordable,grass-roots Coalition Urges

June 12, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

The County Commissioners agreed yesterday not to "close out" a groupof citizens concerned about whether the county is doing enough to encourage affordable housing.

"You have a roomful of experts. I wantyou to use my head. We have a good potential to do a lot of good work, without creating a whole new set of wheels," said Sylvia Canon, executive director of Human Services Programs Inc., which runs the county's shelters for the homeless.

"I feel closed out," she said.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he hoped to concentrate efforts to help county residents find housing within their means, instead of continuing the fragmentedand confusing array of government committees.

"Do people who needhelp know which group to go to?" Dell said. "We have so many groups trying to do the same thing, it's confusing."

The meeting was requested by the Carroll County Housing Coalition, agrass-roots group formed in February 1990 to support affordable housing.

About 15 coalition members attended, including a priest, Realtor, developer, municipal and county housing professionals and human service workers.

The group had been concerned that the previous Board of Commissioners never responded to a report prepared by an ad-hoc planning committee in April 1990. Although a handful of the 63 recommendations in the panel's Affordable Housing Strategic Planning Committee Report and Recommendations have been followed, the commissioners never contacted the members.

Many of those people are in the Housing Coalition, and still feel the county isn't communicating with them.

Though creationof an advisory board was among the 63 recommendations, Canon and others in the Housing Coalition said they were not contacted when the county formed yet a third committee last winter. This latest committee is made up of representatives from Carroll's eight municipalities andcounty government, and has met once, in March.

Other recommendations included in the 63 offered by the ad-hoc planning committee included allowing greater density in home-building and studying successfulprograms such as one in Montgomery County that rewards developers who include moderately priced housing among more expensive homes.

The report said concentrating lower-priced homes lowers their values, while mixing them with more-expensive homes preserves their market price.

At a town/county conference in August, the latest advisory board will make recommendations on how the county and towns can encourage affordable housing, said Hampstead Councilman Gary W. Bauer, a member of both the board and the coalition.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said the members of the coalition could attend advisory board meetings to contribute their expertise.

Karen Blandford, coalition spokeswoman, said she felt the meeting was productive.

"Something truly is happening," said Blandford, housing supervisor for the City of Westminster, who is also a member of the ad-hoc committee that offeredthe 63 recommendations.

"There is a process, and they(commissioners) are willing to make it an open, involved process," Blandford said.

She said coalition members had been concerned the county was just going to decide without letting them in on the process.

"I really intend to see these people get as involved as they want to be," said Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. "You're talking about people who don't get paid, spending hours at meetings to see what they can do."

The commissioners have said the lack of affordable housing is a problem in Carroll, but say the definition of "affordable"varies.

"Really, part of this whole effort is to determine how much of a problem it is," Lippy said.

"What the average household income in the county can afford is affordable," Dell said. "Then there's a level below that, and that's where the problem is. That's the puzzle, and I don't have the answer."

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