When a new town house in Howard County can sell for as much as $250,000, the words "affordable housing" don't come easily to mind.
But that is the reality in Howard, pricing out of the housing market many people in moderate income professions: teachers, police, firefighters. Of greater concern to many county residents, the high price of Howard housing makes it impossible for children raised in the county to find something to buy once they are grown and on their own. Even a new condominium can sell for as much as $110,000.
To their credit, County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Councilman Vernon Gray are taking steps that could bring some affordability.
Under legislation they filed recently, a developer with a project of 10 units or more would be required to set aside 10 percent of that project for more moderately priced homes. If he couldn't, or refused, the developer would have to contribute to a fund to create an equal number of moderate-priced units elsewhere.
County officials have borrowed a page from their sister boom county to the south: Montgomery County has had a similar law on the books for close to 20 years. Its officials estimate that 2,500 affordable units have been created each year.
Howard officials are not expecting such success. They estimate that no more than 150 affordable units will be created annually here. Success would mean that families with annual incomes of up to $45,000 could find housing for between $70,000 and $90,000, a major improvement over what they would find today.
However, opposition to the plan is likely, especially from no-growth crowd because it would require higher densities in some areas as an incentive for developers.
A project with affordable housing would stand its best chance in the already crowded eastern part of the county -- a situation likely to refuel old arguments about fairness. The mostly rural, western Howard County would avoid bearing its fair share because land prices make affordable housing projects there all but impossible.
County residents have a lot to grapple with as the debate over affordable housing unfolds. At issue is how much some residents are willing to sacrifice in exchange for making housing in Howard more affordable for others.