The forgotten poor

September 20, 1991

More than a decade ago, Baltimore County made a commitment to designate space for subsidized housing for the poor. Today, there is still no local provision for low-income housing. The county's poor live in private, often run-down housing, scramble for far too few federally subsidized apartments, or they simply move out.

Granted, the federal government has not fulfilled the promises of aid it held out in 1979. Nonetheless, other metropolitan counties, notably Anne Arundel and Howard, have made efforts to ensure a housing stock for the poor -- Howard even paid for some public housing itself. Baltimore County officials, however, have now tried to skirt the responsibility by asking developers to designate a certain percentage of new construction in growth areas like Owings Mills, as "affordable housing" -- that is, homes and apartments for individuals who earn $30,450 a year or couples whose combined incomes are at or below $43,500.

It speaks to the exorbitant cost of housing, overall, that special provisions must be made to ensure a stock of homes for the middle class. But it also relegates to obscurity the working poor -- some of whom, under the county's "affordable housing" guidelines, could well be county workers themselves.

Baltimore County officials have a valid point in arguing that it would be too expensive to subsidize low-income housing outright. But there are other kinds of subsidies that can -- and should -- be offered. Some areas could be zoned for mobile home parks, for instance, or the county could donate land it owns for low-income housing, or it could permit greater densities for builders who set aside a specified percentage of homes for the poor. Whatever it chooses to do, Baltimore County clearly has an obligation to do something. Its current head-in-the-sand

position is, simply, irresponsible.

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