Study calls for low-cost housing Brown says it would cost county too much

October 11, 1995|By KERRY O'ROURKE | KERRY O'ROURKE,SUN STAFF

Encouraging developers working in Carroll to build more homes for people earning "moderate" incomes of $45,000 to $55,000 has been called both a necessity and a financial drain the county can no longer afford.

Members of an ad hoc committee made up of builders and others in housing-related jobs released a report yesterday supporting efforts to create more affordable housing. But the proposals drew a skeptical response from Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who said the county government would end up subsidizing the homes.

"We literally need to get down to the bottom line," he said at a meeting at the County Office Building with members of the Carroll chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Lower-cost homes put a strain on the tax base, Mr. Brown said, because the people living in the homes use county services at the same rate as other residents while contributing less in property taxes.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates attended the meeting but made no comments.

The commissioners formed the eight-member committee in February and charged it with studying the county's housing needs, based on income and socioeconomic factors, and studying how to provide incentives for developers to build homes for people with moderate incomes.

In addition to two homebuilders, the committee included the Westminster planning director and housing administrator, a banker, a land planning and design consultant and a private planning consultant. County Public Works Director J. Michael Evans chaired the group.

The commissioners did not say yesterday whether they would act on the recommendations.

Committee member Greg Dorsey, a South Carroll builder, said the county has an obligation to provide housing for residents of all income levels.

"Lower-wage job holders don't have a place to live. Our community has to provide them a place to live," he said.

Westminster housing administrator Karen Blandford said after the meeting that encouraging more residents to buy homes would add to the county's stability. "We are actually, in the long run, helping our community, not hurting it.

"This is about whether we want children who are born and raised here to be able to buy homes here. Right now they can't," she said.

With a population of 138,800 that is projected to increase 44 percent in the next 25 years, the county no longer can afford the schools, roads and other services its population demands, Mr. Brown said.

"The building industry must understand that we've come to a point where industry must have more responsibility for infrastructure," he said.

Residential construction generates money to pay for county schools, roads and parks through impact fees. The fees are charged to developers, who generally pass them on to homebuyers. The impact fee for a single-family home in most parts of the county is $4,487.

The homebuilders touted their contributions to the community yesterday by distributing a study that showed how many jobs were created in the construction industry in Carroll last year and how much tax revenue was generated by construction.

The study was conducted so that developers "could better argue the merits of our trade with a skeptical public," Clark P. Turner, a past president of the homebuilders association, wrote in a letter accompanying the study.

The homebuilding industry generated 2,860 jobs last year, not all of them in Carroll, and those jobs paid $82.5 million in wages, the study said.

The county collected $4.7 million in taxes and $12.6 million in fees as a result of construction, the study said.

The average price of a home in Carroll County is almost $146,000, according to the affordable housing report. And the county does not have enough rental units or homes for people earning low-to-moderate incomes of $28,000 to $55,500, Mr. Evans said.

The affordable housing committee also recommended that the county enforce its Minimum Livability Code to ensure that rental units are safe and encourage the development of high-quality apartment complexes.

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