Despite falling interest rates and contractors bargaining for construction jobs, affordable housing remains out of reach for some Carrollfamilies.
But the Western Maryland Interfaith Housing DevelopmentCorp., a non-profit organization in Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, is working to help.
The non-denominational group, formed in July 1990 to help ease Western Maryland's housing crisis, asked Carroll religious leaders to preach sermons about affordable housing and donate part of collection proceeds to WMIHDC. All money would be used to build or rehabilitate housing for low-income families.
"We asked individual congregations to focus Sunday on the need for affordable housing," said the Rev. Mark Lancaster, acting president of WMIHDC.
"One of the ways to help people know about what we are doing is, once a year, to hold up the need for decent affordable housing as a significant issue," he said.
Since the collection is being done informally, group members didn't know how many congregations participated Sunday.
"We didn't think this was going to be a big fund-raiser," Lancaster said. "We justwanted to let people know the organization existed and that there was a component in Carroll County."
"Our primary goal is to sell these houses to persons in a lower income bracket so they can have some equity rather than renting," said Robert Hartman, a founding member of WMIHDC.
Hartman, the chairman of the philosophy and religious studies department at Western Maryland College, said several denominations are represented within the organization. Thirty-five members fromthe five counties serve on the organization's board. The Carroll contingent has 15 members.
"We are truly an interfaith group," he said. "We have Jews, Catholics and Protestants all active in it, even some non-religious humanists who are supportive of the organization."
The group wants to establish 1,000 units of affordable housing in Western Maryland by the end of the decade. Cost for the program probably will reach $50 million, Hartman said.
"It's a pretty ambitious goal," he said. "But we think it's feasible with all five counties working on this."
In Carroll, the group has joined with WMC to applyfor a $240,000 grant from the Jesse Ball duPont Foundation. That money will be used as "seed money" to get the county program started, Hartman said.
"It would become a revolving fund," he said. "As people paid off their mortgages, it would be used for other projects of the same kind. Any interest accrued would go back into the program."
WMC has also offered the services of students and professors to interview candidates or conduct studies on housing problems in Carroll.
In each county, the group works with social service groups -- such as Enterprise Inc., founded by Columbia and Harborplace developer James Rouse -- that already exist in the community. The group also plansto work with governments and banks to obtain low-interest loans for clients.
"We are working with other agencies in order to broaden the base of funding," said Hartman. "We're not trying to be a substitute for these agencies in any way."
Although the organization will use federal guidelines to determine who is needy, the homes are targeted for families making around $12,000 a year. All projects will be advertised in local newspapers and through social service agencies.
WMIHDC projects under construction include the renovation of about 50 units in Cumberland in Allegany County and building 19 homes in Hagerstown in Washington County.
"We really go for what's applicable in each community," Lancaster said.
"For example, in Garrett and Allegany counties, rehabilitation might be perfect. But in Frederick and Carroll, so many of the properties have been rehabilitated into fairly expensive housing that the only way to go is new construction."
One drawback to building is the high price of real estate in Carroll, he said.
"We hope people will contribute or sell the land to us at a very reasonable price," Lancaster said. "Otherwise, it will raise the final selling price of the house beyond what we can reasonably do."
At present, the group is negotiating to buy 100 acres in Carroll and would like to begin building within a year.
"It will take a little time for the land studies and the zoning and all that," Hartman said. "We are hoping to complete the negotiations and have the project under way fairly soon."