Sensible Affordable Housing ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

November 10, 1992

It's too bad people automatically throw up barriers around their neighborhood when they hear the phrase "affordable housing."

That is what happened when the residents of the Ridgeway area of Severn learned that six of the surplus county lots being donated to a new low-cost housing program were located in their community. The people balked. They feared that smaller houses built on quarter-acre lots would drive down their property values.

Every homeowner worries about property value and preserving the character of his neighborhood.

But beneath the basic desire to protect one's property lies a troubling, unspoken prejudice against the kind of housing -- and the kind of people -- that many people tend to associate with the word "affordable." Say "affordable housing," and many people think of one thing: the projects.

That perception isn't accurate. Moderately priced housing isn't typically for the very poor. It is for hard-working families and single people who can't afford exorbitant mortgages that mushroomed out of control in the mid-'80s. The new "Venture Housing Program" is for single people making no more than $32,800 and families of two or more making a maximum of $40,950. The houses must be at least 960 square feet, with three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths -- ordinary, modest dwellings.

The county's plan even calls for a representative from each community where the surplus lots are located to help review the developers' designs so neighborhoods such as Ridgeway can work toward having the new houses fit in terms of style and scale. It is difficult to see how an affordable housing program could be more accommodating to -- and sensitive to the investments of -- existing residents. Indeed, residents in Brooklyn Park, Glen Burnie and Pasadena, where seven other houses are scheduled to be built in the program's first round, responded enthusiastically once the plan was explained to them.

It's a tragedy of this time that families who earn decent, modest incomes cannot afford homes of their own.

The Venture program is a sensible approach to help them achieve that. Anne Arundel County residents should support it.

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