The Fear of Affordable Housing HOWARD COUNTY

November 25, 1992

Give Earl Armiger credit for telling it like it is when it comes to why some people oppose building affordable homes in Howard County.

"They couch their arguments in terms of protecting the environment or overcrowding of schools and roads," said Mr. Armiger, a developer and former president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. "But I don't think this really explains what brings them out to protest apartment zoning."

And what does bring them out? "They have an idea that people who live in apartments or high-density housing are undesirables," Mr. Armiger said.

That is not to say that there aren't other arguments against affordable housing -- the environment and overcrowding -- that are valid. But to the extent that those problems can be addressed, many residents will still mask their true reasons for protesting. This kind of cynical approach is wrong and shortsighted.

As a recent report compiled by the Legg Mason Realty Group for the county's Department of Housing and Community Development shows, Howard County rents remain the highest in the Baltimore area. The effect is one of squeezing out low- to moderate-income households. The county needs such people as employees in service, distribution and manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, most can't afford to live in Howard County.

What this situation amounts to is a real impediment to the county's ability to attract industries that require lower-paid employees. When those industries do locate in Howard, the strain placed on the county's roads by commuters from out of county is enormous.

What is the county doing about this problem? Not a whole lot. Some efforts have been made to develop public and private partnerships to set aside some units in high-density developments for low- and moderate-income renters.

Legislation that would require developers to set aside a percentage of units for lower-income households when a development exceeds 10 units, however, has been tabled for the time being. Council members say they are at odds over whether incentives should be given to builders to provide the set-aside. But the real issue may be the unspoken one that Mr. Armiger so aptly described.

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