Affordable housing discussed as some neighborhoods resist

October 06, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Nichole Griffin says she would like to move into a neighborhood such as Columbia's Long Reach village, but some residents in that community don't want low-income neighbors like her.

"I can come to your house and baby-sit your child, but I can't come live beside you," Ms. Griffin told a group of about 60 people at a forum on affordable housing yesterday.

The forum, sponsored by Coldwell Banker Grempler's Grempler Real Estate Assistance Team, was the fourth annual gathering of public and private advocates for affordable housing. It included a four-member panel composed of Jacqueline H. Rogers, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and three local advocates for affordable housing.

This year's meeting came at a time when homeowners in Long Reach village, mostly from the new Kendall Ridge section, are opposing construction of the 64-townhouse Streamwood development there.

The development would offer housing to residents with incomes from $25,000 to $40,000. First mortgages would start at $85,000.

The Long Reach residents who oppose low-income housing in their neighborhood are circulating a petition calling the development "a recipe for various disasters."

"It's a problem everywhere," Ms. Rogers said. "Sometimes you have to do it even though the neighbors don't want to have it . . . but force is a last-ditch effort.

"You want to get your most vocal opponents . . . and you make them part of the solution," she said.

Ms. Rogers said during the forum that homeowners who oppose construction of low-income housing usually fear that their property values will go down, that public safety will be threatened and that school quality will drop.

"They will fight if they are afraid," she said.

Ms. Griffin, a youth supervisor for Howard County and Anne Arundel County Juvenile Services, said she lives in a government-subsidized house and wants to buy her own home. The Long Reach homeowners -- and others like them -- who oppose construction of low-income housing developments in their neighborhoods are prejudiced, she said.

"I want the same thing everybody wants," Ms. Griffin said. "It's not that I'm not a responsible person, but I want that American dream like everybody else."

Advocates for the poor have long argued that affordable housing is the answer to the county's homeless problem. Howard County is the most affluent county in the state, with a median income of $54,000, according to the 1990 census.

That makes for expensive housing. The average selling price for county homes in 1993 was $188,358. In June, it was $192,518. The waiting list for government-subsidized housing in the county is one to two years long.

Leonard Vaughan, executive director of the county housing commission, called the problems in Long Reach "just some detours in the road" and vowed that the county would continue with its plans to help low-income people.

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