Affordable Housing: Carrot over Stick HOWARD COUNTY

July 22, 1993

Suddenly, the world seems upside down. Howard County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, never a friend of affordable housing, supports an affordable housing measure? Councilman Vernon Gray, noted champion of the same cause, opposes it? Are we in Alice's Wonderland?

No, what we have here is a perfectly understandable situation -- as understandable as possible given the politics of the county Zoning Board.

Councilman Paul Farragut last week proposed a measure requiring developers to set aside a portion of their subdivisions for affordable housing once they reach certain densities. Mr. Gray, who chairs the Zoning Board, initially rejected the measure. He relented when Mr. Farragut threatened to withdraw his support for previously set densities that were established for new mixed-use developments.

Mr. Gray was opposed to Mr. Farragut's measure because he felt that it penalizes developers for reaching certain densities. Mr. Gray, conversely, wants to grant developers a "bonus" for willingly building affordable homes. The bonus would be to allow for higher densities than currently proposed.

It may seem that Messrs. Farragut and Gray are not far apart -- both support affordable housing. But Mr. Farragut's legislation would create a disincentive to build at higher densities because to do so would require builders to erect less-profitable homes.

That is why Mrs. Pendergrass favors the measure. She recently lost a battle to keep densities in mixed-use developments at lower levels. Her support for Mr. Farragut shows the backdoor means she will employ to get her way.

Howard is in desperate need of affordable housing. As it is, some of the county's most valuable employees, such as teachers and firefighters, can scarcely afford to live where they work.

The County Council has been shortsighted on this issue. Earlier this year, it rejected a measure to create moderately priced dwelling units. And there is no reason to believe the Zoning Board, composed of those same council members, will do much better.

If it does anything, the council should reward developers who willingly build affordable homes. In this matter, the law would be more productive as a carrot than as a stick.

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