Fine-tuning urged for affordable housing plan WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

October 21, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A legislative plan to increase the county's affordable housing stock by 250 units a year is well-intended, but needs work, the County Council was told last night.

"Moderately priced dwelling units would address a housing need," said Rosemary Mortimer, president of the PTA Council. "But it would also generate other needs at a time of severe restrictions on our resources."

Harriet Bachman, chairwoman of the Howard County Housing Alliance, said the legislation would add little or no cost to the county budget.

"This legislation is the most important piece of housing legislation that I have been involved in," she said. "It does not add fees to the county, developers or to market-rate buyers, but it does provide more housing for moderate-income buyers."

Despite her enthusiasm -- "It is the product of an extraordinary collaborative effort over a period of at least nine years," she said -- Ms. Bachman offered the council three pages of technical amendments.

"We wholeheartedly support the attempt to provide affordable housing, but we do have a little problem with the mechanics," said Joseph A. Firetti, president of the Howard County chapter of the Homebuilders Association. He asked that action on the legislation be postponed for 30 days.

"We want to put together a panel of land planners, finance people, developers and builders to meet with the council and go over test cases -- find out what works and doesn't work," Mr. Firetti said. "If there are snafus, we've got to know it in advance."

The legislation, sponsored jointly by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, would require builders of a development with 10 or more units to set aside 10 percent of those units for households with 75 percent or less of the county's median income.

The median income, according to the 1990 Census, was $54,348. Using that standard, households would have to an income of $40,761 or less to qualify for the program.

Priority would be given house holds with the lowest qualifying incomes, first-time home buyers, people who work in the county and people who already live in the county.

The 10 percent requirement also applies to rental units. Developers of rental units must make 10 percent of those units available to below-median income households for the next 40 years.

There is no time limit on non-rental housing.

Houses built under the program would cost about $70,000 to $92,000, and must be aesthetically similar in appearance to market-rate homes.

They could not be resold except at below-market prices to income-eligible buyers. If such a buyer could not be found within a specified period, the unit could be sold at market price. But the seller would have to pay a portion of the sales price to a county housing fund.

The fund would pay the cost of administering the program, provide loans, make grants to renters, buy new housing and repair old housing.

It would derive income from developers unable to comply with the moderately priced dwelling unit requirement.

Builders of fewer than 40 units in a single development could opt to contribute to the fund rather than include moderately priced units in their development.

Builders of 40 or more units in a single development could contribute to the fund in lieu of building affordable units there or they could build affordable units elsewhere if they are unable to build them at their primary site.

Builders could take the transfer option only if their developments are for single-family detached homes.

Also, the number of moderately priced units at a transfer site could not exceed 50 percent.

Developers who include moderately priced units in their subdivisions rather than contribute to the housing fund or transfer the units elsewhere would receive a building bonus of 20 percent.

A 50-home subdivision, for example, would become a 60-home subdivision if the developer makes six of those units moderately priced.

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