Stopping the Stampede

December 20, 1992

Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden is doing the smart thing in preparing a bill to provide affordable housing for residents with moderate incomes. Unfortunately, it might be a matter of shutting the barn door after the horses have escaped.

The "horses," in fact, have stampeded clear to Pennsylvania, and to Harford and Carroll counties. These are mainly the young families frustrated in their search for detached homes in Baltimore County priced between $100,000 and $150,000. Their vexation has sent them fleeing to adjacent jurisdictions where a three-bedroom, detached house with a garage and a large yard can be had for less than $150,000. A similar home in Baltimore County, on average, goes for $169,000.

Southern Pennsylvania has been especially appealing. Some 60 percent of the people buying homes there during a recent five-year period came from Maryland, a large portion from Baltimore County.

These trends may be Towson's comeuppance for waiting until the late 1980s to create a housing department or even a cogent housing philosophy. The issue has long been shunned as political poison because of racial fears the term "affordable housing" has engendered among county bigots.

Now, with many families moving out -- taking their tax payments and spending dollars with them, followed by businesses aiming to cater to them -- the county government has realized it must build housing to retain these families as well as to lure others into the county.

Harford County's supply of affordable housing has been cited as one reason various companies have located there. For now, though, Baltimore County officials might be happy just to hang onto the residents who have stuck around.

The Hayden bill would provide a fast-track route in which developers with "select" proposals could start building in as little as 90 days. As long as the public hearing process is not severely compromised by this measure, we urge its approval. It might be too little too late, but something clearly needs to be done to stop the stampede.

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