Housing Elusive For Middle Class

Report Shows More Than Poor Are Kept Out

September 08, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

For Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, the housing plan the council received from a 13-member task force last week is not just another study awaiting the shelf.

A lifelong county resident, Feaga knows well the lament that housing here is beyond the reach of most low- and moderate-income families. But what the report cited, and what Feaga also knows,is that most Howard County homes are beyond the reach of middle-income people as well -- those with annual incomes of $60,000 or less.

"All of a sudden even middle-class people can't afford to live here," Feaga says. "Most of our children are middle class. Unless things change we will pretty much be telling them we have no place for them."

One thing that must change if the county is to "retain its young or even a significant portion of its middle-class residents," the task force said, is for a zoning change to allow development of at least 20,000 units of town houses and apartments during the next 20 years.

Although the idea of more town houses and apartments inflames many slow-growth advocates, members of the County Housing Commission and the County Housing and Community Development Board never flinchedin making their joint recommendations to the council. They expect their recommendations to be taken seriously.

"I believe we live in avery kind county where people by and large understand" the need for affordable housing, says James C. Landerkin, chairman of the housing development board.

Even if the county were to continue becoming "older and richer" faster than anywhere else in the region as the task force reports, people would still need someone to "protect them, put out their fires, deliver their mail, cook their hamburgers, teach in their schools, and nurse them," Landerkin says. "Already, many care givers cannot afford to live here unless they are in families of multiple-wage earners."

The council already has endorsed affordable housing on a limited scale, proposing in the 1990 General Plan that the county provide developer incentives that would add 267 new low- and moderate-income units to the county's housing stock each year.

The rezoning request "is obviously a concern" to people, says Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.

What she doesn't know, she says, is whether people are against town house, condominium and apartment developments, or whether they object to the increased demand for services that those developments bring.

"I have a gut feeling it's (increased) density, period," she says. "It is a question I have to talk to people about."

John W. Taylor, president of Howard County Citizens for Responsible Growth, says that while he doesn't know what the answer is, increased density is not it.

"We are in the midst of a recession and are already going to reach the general plan threshold" of 2,500 new residential units a year, he says. "What's it gonna be when the good timescome?"

Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, asks the question in a different way. Farragut says the task force has done "a good job with an ambitious plan," but would like to see detailed comparisons with general plan proposals.

Some residents are already having difficulty with the mixed-use concept proposed in the general plan, he says. The concept attempts to help provide affordable housing by allowing people to live above stores in industrial settings.

With resistance already building against the mixed-use idea, the task force proposals will be even harder to implement, Farragut says. "We'll need some innovative missionary work to help us get a good reaction."

Darrel Drown, R-2nd agrees. "I think there is a mandate from the public for both a benevolent society and to slow the growth rate," Drown says. "The proposal may be too aggressive. We need to stay with the general plan numbers. People are saying they are willing to pay a little more to slow the growth rate."

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, remains optimistic. Gray thinks the addition of 700 low- to moderate-income units a year is not unrealistic and had sought to get the council to approve at least 500 in the general plan. The council voted for 267.

What it didn't do, Gray says, is make any provision for increased numbers of mobile homes, something he is attempting to change.

Meanwhile, he and County Executive Charles I. Ecker are working together to draft legislation that would make the portion of the plan relating to low- and moderate-income families -- those earning less than $35,000 a year -- a reality. Ecker said he expects that legislation to be ready in two to four months.

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