Invariably, when the discussion turns to low- and moderately-priced housing, there is an undercurrent of unspoken and sometimes spoken) emotion. Debates about scattered-site housing and what represents a community's fair share of the burden are sometimes used to mask people's true concerns. Even though the term "affordable housing" should speak for itself, some people mistake it to mean low-income housing, and see it as a breeder of crime and deterioration.
In Howard County these issues are playing out in the opposition in the Kendall Ridge neighborhood of Columbia's Long Reach village, where the Enterprise Foundation and the Rouse Co. want to build 64 town houses for buyers and renters whose household income is $25,000 a year or less.
Long Reach village board chairwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz questioned whether the development runs counter to the notion that low-income housing should not be clustered in specific areas. She argues that Long Reach is being singled out because other Columbia villages seem to have little or no lower-income housing. A public hearing has been scheduled for July 11.
No doubt the same concerns would not be raised if the proposed development featured homes similar in size and value to the middle-class housing that dominates Kendall Ridge.
Residents should avoid the tendency to equate lower-income housing with undesirable elements in society. On the contrary, this housing is targeted to hard working people who may have had trouble breaking into the Columbia market -- teachers, police officers, laborers. Officials at the Enterprise Foundation have designed a community where well over half of the units will be sold to homebuyers, a feature that should help ensure a certain pride in community. Besides, Rouse isn't going to do something to harm Columbia. It has a stake in the community that a fly-by-night builder in some other place would not.
Columbia's mission was to be an integrated city offering all manner of housing. Because of changes at the federal level over the past few decades, some communities in Columbia have more lower-income housing than others.
But a paucity of affordable housing in one neighborhood is not a good enough excuse to block well-conceived projects elsewhere. It's worth remembering that if the same argument had been successful a quarter-century ago, there would not be a Columbia at all.