Affordable housing in Howard County

January 06, 1993

Perhaps the demise of affordable housing legislation i Howard County was inevitable.

In one of the wealthiest counties in the country, where the affluent are drawn by a pristine environment, good schools and countless amenities, the pressure to maintain the status quo must be enormous.

Certainly, three council members -- Republicans Charles Feaga and Darrel Drown, as well as Democrat Shane Pendergrass -- felt that pressure.

Monday night, they yielded to the wishes of a constituency who listed their concerns as overcrowding, the environment and questions about the proper role of government.

Unfortunately, many people suspect that some of their other concerns went unstated, and that most of those worries centered on the idea that affordable housing inevitably attracts "undesirables."

Hand in hand with that attitude went arguments about crime and fears that moderate-priced dwellings would depress the value of existing homes.

However one chooses to slice it, the defeat of the affordable housing bill, which had the bi-partisan backing of Democratic Councilman Vernon Gray and Republican County Executive Charles Ecker, was the result of narrow-minded self-interest. The idea that the county would use its influence to spur the development of housing in the moderate-price range -- housing that could be afforded by new teachers, county firefighters and police officers -- did not survive the post-1980s spirit of "me first" and "not in my backyard."

Ironically, far from assisting low-income buyers or the homeless, the bill was designed to help families earning as much as $43,000 a year purchase a home in Howard County. People at that income level can hardly be dismissed as undesirable.

In itself, that income ceiling should have been proof enough of how badly Howard needs to increase its stock of affordable housing. Instead, it was used by the opposition to deride the program as a government subsidy for the middle-class.

The reality is that when new townhouses in Howard can be sold for $150,000 and up -- as they are currently -- a large segment of the middle-class clearly needs a helping hand.

The fact that some people might consider middle-class wage-earners undesirable borders on the ridiculous. But that's how crazy things can get in the Shangri-la known as Howard County.

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