A Columbia Forum survey of county government and school employees who live outside Howard County has yielded surprising results about theneed for affordable housing here.
Nearly 80 percent of the employees under age 35 who responded to the survey said they own their own homes and live in two-income households with total incomes above $40,000 a year. For those over 35, the percentage was even higher.
More than half of the respondents under 35 said they would like to move within three years and that western Howard County would be their first choice for a new home site. Most now live in Baltimore or Carroll counties.
Most respondents over 35 said they would not like to move within the next three years. Those who would like to move said they also preferred western Howard County.
The least favorite areas among all age groups were Columbia and southeast Howard County.
The forum commissioned the survey among people it assumed might be unable to live in Howard County because of the high price of housing here.
A total of 2,361 surveys were distributed -- 1,401 to schoolsystem employees and 960 to county government employees.
Among school employees, 364, or 26 percent, returned the surveys. Twenty-one percent, or 203, of the government employees responded.
C. E. "Ted" Peck, chairman of the forum's housing initiative steering group, said the survey may not be representative of all county workers who live outside the county.
While the survey indicates that many school and government employees have considerable choice about where they want to live, others feel excluded from Howard County because of high housing prices here, Peck said.
"It is instructive to look at the 21 percent of the respondents who have household incomes under $40,000," Peck said.
Of those, 35 percent are renters, 34 percent are single, 29 percent are divorced and 10 percent have incomes under $20,000.
Peck also said two-thirds of those with incomes under $40,000 find it difficult or very difficult to meet their monthly housing payments; 55 percent spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing; and 52 percent list Howard County as their first choice as a placeto live.
About the same percentage of those with higher incomes listed Howard as their first choice as a place to live.
"Not surprisingly, it is the people who are presently renting who are most eagerto move," Peck said.
"They are five times as likely to have household incomes under $30,000 and four times as likely to be single."
Eighty percent of them want to move within the next three years, and73 percent want to own their own home, the survey found. Less than half of them responded that they would choose Howard County, however.
Peck said the survey did not address directly the problems of people who cannot afford to live here or whether the county might lose workers because of a lack of affordable housing.
He said his committee believes the county needs a continuing supply of affordable homes to support economic growth over the next decade.
Since most of theland previously zoned for apartments and town houses has been used, rezoning of the eastern part of the county is needed to accommodate such dwellings, Peck said.