HUD, Housing and Harford

November 05, 1993

The decision by federal authorities to approve more heavily subsidized low-income housing in Edgewood flies in the face of Harford County's housing policy and the wishes of surrounding communities.

But it does reflect the local need for rent-assistance housing and the desire to keep a mixed townhouse development from going belly up and boarded up. Without the conversion of 209 units to Section 8 rent subsidies, the managers of Meadowood Townhouses said they, and a number of their tenants, would face serious financial difficulties.

More than 20 percent of the development's 574 homes are vacant, unaffordable to many persons who want to live there but not attractive enough to others who could afford the market rent. More than 80 current residents would qualify for the heavier federal subsidies, which limit a family's spending for shelter to 30 percent of income.

The problem is that this move by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adds to the unbalanced concentration of subsidized housing in Edgewood -- more than a third of all subsidized housing in Harford County.

County policy calls for a wider distribution of these rent-subsidy homes. But few places outside the U.S. 40 corridor are clamoring for low-income housing and the HUD program. "The need is definitely there in the Edgewood area," notes Amey L. Epstein, county housing coordinator.

The conflict of local wishes (or policies) and HUD decisions is not unique to Edgewood or Harford County. Operators of housing developments apply for the federal program on their own.

HUD doesn't have to respond to opinions of adjacent neighborhoods or county officials. We think they should, as long as the local community is not simply trying to keep out all low-income housing. Local demand for such housing -- not just region-wide lists of applicants -- should also be weighed in making these Section 8 decisions; that standard, at least, seems to have been met in Meadowood.

Certainly, keeping Meadowood financially viable while meeting local needs is desirable. High vacancy rates would only jeopardize the entire development, leading to the neighborhood blight and crime that Edgewood community groups fear most.

But poverty alone is not the cause of crime. Committed residents, along with effective management and responsive law enforcement officials, must work together to keep the development a safe and responsible part of the Edgewood community.

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