One Congregation's Housing Solution

November 03, 1994

While Howard County's public and private sectors fret over how to solve the local shortage of affordable housing, a religious congregation in Columbia has launched an effort to help some county residents attain the American dream of home ownership.

The Columbia Jewish Congregation has formed a nonprofit corporation that will use state and county subsidies and private low-interest loans to purchase and repair rundown homes. The congregation will then make them available at reduced mortgage rates to people with incomes of about $30,000. These are citizens who otherwise would not be able to buy a house in affluent Howard, where the average selling price for a home topped $192,000 last June.

The program should have a two-fold benefit: It will create some more affordable residences and spruce up neighborhoods where eyesore structures would be turned into thriving homes. Indeed, corporation leaders say that if their initial attempts prove successful, they will concentrate on restoring neglected properties at least 15 years old in communities overloaded with rental units.

This effort by one congregation seems even more impressive when contrasted with the indifference -- even hostility -- directed toward the concept of affordable housing in Howard County.

In recent months, for example, residents of the Kendall Ridge section of Columbia have protested a Rouse Co. plan to build a local complex of 64 homes for people earning between $25,000 and $40,000 annually. To opponents of the plan, these income levels are somehow synonymous with the "criminal element." Never mind that many teachers, police officers, firefighters and members of other essential professions fall into this earning category, not to mention that people at the lower end of the income scale deserve to be branded criminals no more than people at the upper end.

Kendall Ridgers have crafted a petition calling the Rouse proposal "a recipe for various disasters." The same could be said, though, for the county's lack of a concerted approach to providing much-needed affordable housing. Is it any wonder there's a waiting list of one to two years for government-subsidized homes in Howard? All the more reason to praise and encourage an effort like that of the Columbia Jewish Congregation.

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