Housing director is hired

June 11, 1995|By John Dedinas | John Dedinas,Contributing Writer

Harford County Housing Inc., a nonprofit organization created more than a year ago to build and refurbish homes countywide for low-income buyers, has a hired an executive director and is looking for homes to purchase.

The new executive director is Frank Hodgetts, who will oversee the search for properties. One site under consideration is the Army-surplus Washington Court on Aberdeen Proving Ground near Edgewood.

Harford County Housing is using a new approach in the county in its attempt to make up for the lack of low-income housing. In a program under local control, organizers hope to provide people with the feeling of pride that comes with owning their homes. That way, organizers reason, homes will be better cared for and rates of crime and drug use will drop.

The contacts Mr. Hodgetts developed in four years at Baltimore's St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center will help Harford County Housing attain its goals, said Robert Hooper, a board member of the corporation.

Vincent P. Quayle, founder of the St. Ambrose center, said Mr. Hodgetts was responsible for saving dozens of homes by keeping them out of the hands of absentee landlords.

Another board member, the Rev. Frank Callahan of St. Margaret Catholic Church in Bel Air, said that Mr. Hodgetts will bring dynamic qualities to the job and that the corporation should thrive.

"When you start a new organization, you have to have multiple skills and a lot of energy," he said.

"[Mr. Hodgetts] has never been the first man, he's been second. Now he feels like he is ready to be first, and we do, too."

Cecilia Gast, president of the board of directors, said although no decisions have been made on purchasing property, Harford County Housing hopes to have its first project selected by December. It also hopes to have a proposal for government aid ready by May and be started on the project by September 1996.

The first projects are extremely important for Harford County Housing, Father Callahan said, because it is necessary for the organization to prove itself early and gain credibility. "Right now, we have to get our first victory," he said. "And we'll get it."

Funds for the organization will come from a variety of sources, Ms. Gast said. The corporation qualifies for aid from the county, state and federal governments. Also, money will come from commercial organizations and fund raising.

There are a number of ways Harford County Housing plans to develop sites for resale, including:

* Existing, abandoned buildings can be bought and renovated, keeping as much or as little of the beginning structure as needed.

* Land can be purchased and new residences built. Harford County Housing plans to construct single-family homes, townhouses, duplexes and condominiums.

The Washington Court development near Edgewood contains 263 one- to four-bedroom apartments. They are boarded up, awaiting congressional action that would give the homes to the county. The plan is that Harford County Housing would turn them into residences.

The residences would be sold, and any profit would be used for the next project.

Ms. Gast stressed that no subsidized rentals, or Section 8 housing, will be built.

Anita Sills-Jones of Edgewood, who serves on the Edgewood Planning Council, said, "People only see negative things when you say 'Section 8 housing.' Section 8 housing has put a stigma on Edgewood."

In Section 8 housing, residents pay a portion of their incomes in rent, and the federal government pays the rest.

Mr. Hooper, of Whiteford, said rumors were spread that the corporation would turn Washington Court into subsidized-rental property. "The one thing we don't want is more absentee landlords in Edgewood," he said.

Harford County Housing was based on the recommendations of an affordable housing assessment given to the county in May 1993 by the Enterprise Foundation of Columbia and paid for by religious, business and government entities.

The foundation was hired in 1992 by the Ecumenical Community of Harford County (ECHCO), a group of religious leaders who sought to address the needs of the county's homeless. The study showed Harford had a dramatic need for low-income housing because employment opportunities were shifting from higher-paid manufacturing jobs to lower-paying service employment.

The foundation also advised the county of federal and state programs that nonprofit organizations could use.

"We have to make an effort to stay collaborative," Father Callahan said, "and keep the balance between nonprofit, profit and government [influence]."

On Thursday, Harford County Housing will sponsor a reception and introduce Mr. Hodgetts.

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