Western Maryland's housing crisis Aiding 'shelter poor': Non-profit developer laments difficulty in meeting growing need.

October 24, 1995

RECEIVING AN award for developing a 23-unit apartment house for the elderly in Frederick should be a time of rejoicing, yet members of the Western Maryland Interfaith Housing Development Corp. won't be celebrating too exuberantly. Members of the non-profit organization have been increasingly concerned about their future ability to meet the housing needs of thousands of low-income families in Maryland's five westernmost counties, from Carroll to Garrett.

The Atlanta Federal Home Loan Bank Board is honoring the WMIHDC for its innovative financing of the Frederick project, which includes loans from federal, state and municipal governments as well as investments and loans from commercial banks. It also received a $500,000 grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

In the past two years, WMIHDC has developed 240 units of housing, representing about $14 million of investment in communities that are often forgotten by the rest of the state. They include a 28-unit multi-family rental project in Frostburg, a shelter and transitional housing project in Hagerstown and a 28-unit rental project in Woodsboro.

With the large cuts in future federal and state housing assistance, many of the projects the organization would like to develop will be delayed and possibly never built. The organization estimates that about 30,000 people in the five Western Maryland counties are "shelter poor," meaning that there is a gap between their incomes and the cost of housing in their communities. Some live in substandard units or double up with relatives. Each year, the gap widens and more families find themselves without proper shelter.

Two years ago, WMIHDC set a goal: to build 1,000 units by the end of the decade to meet the region's housing needs. Few members of this hard-working organization now expect to achieve the goal. Most of the money in the federal and state pipelines will be used to pay for projects already under way. If Congress slashes federal housing programs as planned and the state cuts back on its housing programs, the WMIHDC will not be building too many units in the years to come. Meanwhile, the need for affordable housing in economically depressed communities will only increase.

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