High rents keep low-, moderate-income tenants out of Howard Many who work in county can't afford to live in the area

November 24, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

In Tuesday's Howard section, the 1991 average income for renter households in the county was incorrect. The correct figure is $34,401.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Howard County rents -- the highest in metropolitan Baltimore -- are squeezing out low- to moderate-income households, according to a rental market survey prepared for the county's housing office.

The 1992 Howard County Rental Survey is the third annual report prepared by Legg Mason Realty Group for the county's Department of Housing and Community Development. It found that "it is these tenants who are least able to afford rents in Howard County, but who are needed for service, distribution and lower-level manufacturing jobs in the county."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Harriet Bachman, president of the Howard County Housing Alliance, witnessed this phenomenon when she worked at the Grassroots hot line and homeless shelter.

She said that many counselors there can't afford to live in Howard County.

"What's been built most recently is luxury housing so even people making $25,000 or $30,000 are having problems," Ms. Bachman said. "You can't have a county that just has CEOs."

The county could stimulate the development of more mixed income rental projects by offering developers incentives such as low-interest loans and density bonuses, the reports concluded.

According to the report, the time is ripe for such an effort because the continuing credit crunch makes it difficult for real estate developers to get conventional financing for housing developments.

The survey conclusions are based on responses to questionnaires distributed in June to 15,823 rental units in 77 rental developments, a random sample telephone survey of 577 tenants and a mail survey of 2,000 individual rental properties in the county.

Despite the slight drop in average county rents -- from $606 for a one-bedroom unit in June 1991 to $601 in August 1992 -- they continue to be the highest in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

The rent decrease is offset by the survey's finding that tenants' incomes declined, forcing renters to pay a greater proportion of their incomes for rent, a development attributed to the recession.

On average, rental households spend 29 percent of their income rents, a 7 percent increase over last year. At the same time, the median household income for rental households in Howard declined 7 percent from $34,401 in 1991 to to $31,929 in 1992.

The report notes that federal housing guidelines recommend that households pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent.

County households making $10,000 or less spent 80 percent of their incomes on rent, the report found.

"There is evidence that the poorest households in the county are far less able to afford a place to live than they were a year ago," the report states.

Leonard Vaughan, county housing director, agrees with the report's conclusion that one way to increase affordable rental housing would be for the county to form more private/public partnerships with developers.

Two such alliances have produced Orchard Club in Elkridge and Columbia Commons in the Village of Kings Contrivance. Both projects were financed with a combination of private and public money and feature a mix of units for low- and moderate-income households and units with no income restrictions. The developers were able to take advantage of low-interest state and county loans and increased zoning densities, enabling developers to charge lower rent.

Combined, the developments provided 201 units for low- and moderate-income households in the past year.

To qualify for moderate-income apartments, a family of four can have an income of no more than $37,400 -- 85 percent of the median income in the Baltimore area. To qualify for low-income apartments a family of four can have an income of no more than $22,000 -- 50 percent of the median income.

Earl Armiger, president of Orchard Development, which built the 196-unit Orchard Club, is one of the few private developers in the county to have built affordable housing. He said a public/private development partnership has its drawbacks.

"It's very difficult to handle community resistance, the paperwork and all the hoops you have to jump through," said Mr. Armiger, the treasurer for the Maryland Builder's Association. But he said the process has improved since County Executive Charles I. Ecker took office in 1990.

Andy Auld, a vice president of Shelter Development, which developed Columbia Commons with the Enterprise Social Investment Corp., said the partnership with the county went smoothly.

"I think, if anything, there should be more of them in the future," Mr. Auld said of private/public development partnerships.

Currently, Shelter is working with the county and state on Owen Brown II, a 104-unit affordable apartment complex in east Columbia for senior citizens.

Construction is expected to start next spring.

Mr. Vaughan said that despite the need for similar apartment complexes, the remaining county land zoned for high density housing is scarce.

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