It took three years of planning, but it looks like state prison inmates will soon be playing a role in increasing the county's stock of affordable housing.
Through a partnership between the Howard CountyHousing Commission and the state Division of Correction, inmates will build a modular home at a significantly below-market price. The house then will be sold to a local family needing low-cost housing.
With a $70,000 loan from the county, the commission will buy the house from State Use Industries, the vocational division of the stateDivision of Correction, which will supervise construction.
The price of the house is estimated at $28,000, and the remainder of the money will go toward buying a house site, transporting the completed house and on-site construction, said Leonard S. Vaughan, county housingdirector.
Those involved in the partnership, the first of its kind in the state, hope a successful pilot project could pave the way for future inmate construction efforts.
"I hope that the inmates will feel a sense of satisfaction, knowing they're learning a trade and knowing that they're going to produce a product that will be useful to the citizens of the state," said Roger Hultgren, the Columbia resident who proposed the idea to the corrections department.
While serving on a county grand jury in 1988, Hultgren toured the Patuxent Institution and heard about a training program in which inmates built a house. Hultgren asked what happened to the house when it was completed and learned that it was taken apart and salvageable materials were used to build another house.
He wondered why the house couldn't beused for low-income housing and decided to present the idea to correction and county housing officials. Hultgren suggested the house be located in Howard County because of the need for low-income housing here.
"It's a win-win situation for both sides," said Vaughan. "It'sproviding an excellent opportunity for persons who are incarcerated to learn meaningful job skills, making them productive members of society, and we're getting a house at a reduced price."
Inmates at the Jessup Pre-Release unit will build the house, and the commission isresponsible for transporting the completed house to a permanent sitein the county.
Final contracts between the Housing Commission andState Use Industries have not been signed yet, but barring setbacks,Vaughan expects construction to begin next spring.
The commissionwill choose potential buyers from a waiting list of eligible county residents, Vaughan said.
Once the house is finished, the commission will decide whether to lease the home, lease it with an option to buy, or sell the home.
The house must be used for affordable housing for 60 years, Vaughan said.
Cliff Benser, projects manager with State Use Industries, will monitor the project closely, with the hopeof beginning a statewide program of inmate-built homes.
"It's only one project, however," Benser said. "If the quality is there, and we can come in with a good price, I think there's a market, not only in Howard County but perhaps in other counties with a need for low-income housing."