Bond-issue proposal renews longtime debate

October 29, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Rarely, if ever, has a bond issue received such tender loving care as Question F, which will be on Baltimore County ballots next week.

The bond issue, which calls for authorizing borrowing the relatively small amount of $600,000 "for affordable and elderly housing purposes," has reverberations that go back at least a quarter-century.

Back in the days of Spiro Agnew and Dale Anderson, phrases like "affordable housing," "urban renewal" and "community development" were fighting words in county politics. To many, those phrases meant helping poor people from the city -- often a racially tinged code word for blacks -- move to the county. County voters, many of whom had left the city, rejected the idea.

When Mr. Anderson was county executive in the late 1960s, opposition to low-cost public housing was a consistent theme. In 1964, Mr. Agnew supported an urban renewal bill that went down to a resounding defeat.

A 1975 effort by then-County Executive Ted Venetoulis to get urban renewal authority failed in the state legislature. The loss cost the county an estimated $27 million in federal funds.

Though the county has gradually gotten involved in various federal housing programs, voters have never authorized any local money for such purposes. Two years ago, people presumed a $2.6 million bond issue that included housing money would pass. The issue was defeated, 76,114 to 48,422.

This year, Question F has attracted a variety of supporters, from the Republican administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden to the Baltimore County Coalition for the Homeless.

The League of Women Voters is spearheading a campaign whose theme is that the money will not be used to get people to move into the county, but will provide affordable housing for people already in the county.

The bond issue would require the housing be for those at or below 80 percent of the county's median income.

For a family of four, that would mean an income of no more than $35,300.

Supporters, which include the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and the Home Builders Association, say the county is losing residents to Harford and Carroll counties because less-expensive housing is available in those jurisdictions.

At a meeting sponsored earlier this week by the Community Assistance Network, Frank Welsh, director of the county's Department of Community Development, said many of those moving out are young people.

"Persons who work in Baltimore County cannot afford to live in Baltimore County," he said.

"Middle-income workers such as police officers, firefighters, school teachers and other county employees, including members of my own staff, often live many miles from the communities and citizens they serve," he said.

He also said the lack of affordable housing limits the county's ability to attract new industry.

There is no specific plan for the $600,000. Potential uses include housing construction and building infrastructure for such projects. There are indications the money would be used as matching funds to meet requirements for federal housing funds.

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