The push is on for 'affordable' places to live Produce a plan, Owings Mills developers told.

September 17, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Despite a 1979 county commitment to the federal government to designate the new growth area of Owings Mills for low-income housing, Baltimore County officials now say that lower-cost housing cannot be built there because the land is too expensive.

Instead, the administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden has pushed the developers of Owings Mills' largest new housing project to produce a written plan for so-called "affordable" housing for middle-income buyers with incomes as high as $43,500 for a couple.

The developers' plan requested by the county for the recently begun Owings Mills New Town project is due for county Planning Board discussion on Thursday. Frank W. Welsh, director of the county's Department of Community Development, said the county government negotiated the New Town plan before the countywide strategy, because the New Town project was already under way. When completed, Owings Mills New Town is to have 5,500 dwellings.

Another affordable-housing plan, which would apply throughout the county, is in the final stages of negotiation. Welsh said that his agency's negotiations with the county chapter of the Homebuilders' Association of Maryland over a new countywide policy offering incentives for projects with moderate-income housing may be completed in late October.

But neither plan provides that any of the housing will be for low-income people. As far back as 1979, the County Council publicly promised the federal department of Housing and Urban Development that housing for low-income people would be included in what were then the new, planned growth centers of Owings Mills and White Marsh. The idea then was that housing for the poor would not generate strong public opposition if it was built in newly developing areas where few people were living.

But Welsh now says that no housing can be provided for people with incomes under $20,000 without large government subsidies money that just isn't there. He said that land in Owings Mills is far too expensive to allow developers to sell townhouses for $50,000 or less to families with incomes of $20,000 or less without government help, and that help just isn't available.

The Owings Mills New Town plan sets a goal of at least 7 percent of the Ahmanson Development Co.'s dwellings being "available for affordable housing." That is defined as housing that would be affordable to families of at least two persons with incomes at or below the median county level of $43,500, or by a single person with an income at or below $30,450.

The Ahmanson plan, if adopted, also would create a $300,000 revolving loan fund that could be used to help qualified buyers come up with cash for Maryland's high settlement costs.

Owings Mills New Town is a 430-acre planned unit development west of the Northwest Expressway near Owings Mills Mall and less than one mile from the Metro mass transit station.

Housing is for sale by several builders already working in Owings Mills New Town that the Ahmanson report says qualifies as "affordable" under the definitions in the plan. Condominium apartments in the Spring Mill and Silverbrook Farm developments, for example, start at $80,000, and townhouses in a development called Five Oaks are selling for $109,000. The developer also claims that the planned Red Run Apartments, with rents starting at $675 a month for one-bedroom apartments, qualify under the definition of affordable housing in the plan.

The report suggests that prices could be cut further, however, by a variety of possible strategies, such as reducing the quality of mouldings, doors, flooring and tiles, or reducing the size of houses slightly. Other possible cost-cutting suggestions include providing mortgage or rent subsidies from government or private-non-profit corporations that could buy houses and then rent them out.

Welsh said the county government is discussing ways to cut builders' costs for those who commit to selling moderate-income housing. He said the county could help those builders by speeding permit processing or paying part of the cost of sewers, water and roadways in a development -- "anything to cut costs," Welsh said.

This latest effort to provide at least some housing affordable to workers like county teachers, firefighters, police officers and civil servants began in November 1989 when top county officials said they "discovered" that, although preliminary permission already had been granted for up to 12,000 new homes in Owings Mills, no provision for reduced cost housing had been required.

Dennis F. Rasmussen, who was then county executive, said then he wanted a countywide policy to provide affordable housing, but nothing was produced before he left office in December 1990. Roger Hayden renewed the effort after taking over as executive.

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