County may give land for housing Habitat for Humanity, others could receive surplus for homes

November 19, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's surplus land could turn into a boon for Habitat for Humanity and other groups that provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families.

County Executive John G. Gary has said he wants to donate some of the land to groups such as Habitat, but he doesn't know how much there is or where it is. Thus, he has ordered an inventory.

"I suspect that we're sitting on at least quite a few lots that would be suitable for this type of venture," Mr. Gary said after a recent Greater Severn Improvement Association meeting. "I'm pretty sure we can give them a pretty steady flow of property over the next few years."

The county already plans to turn over about 1 1/2 acres in Severn,where Habitat could build at least three homes.

Lisa Ritter, Mr. Gary's spokeswoman, said the inventory barely has begun, but she expects to find "land from one end of the county to the other the county has been acquiring for different purposes over the years."

The county has acquired acreage through wills, tax sales, purchases for projects that may not have gone forward and rights of way. The parcels could range in size from a sliver next to a roadway to 10 acres of developable real estate, Ms. Ritter said.

The inventory won't be complete for at least two years, but land could be made available as officials determine it is surplus, she said.

Officials of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity said the land would be a welcome donation. The group builds and sells houses to individuals and families who work but cannot afford to buy housing and who do not qualify for other programs.

"Finding affordable land is our hardest thing to do because the prices of land have skyrocketed within the last 15 years," said Linda Gray, a Habitat board member who works on selecting homesites. "We are always looking for donations or discounts."

The county donated Habitat's first lot in Glen Burnie, Ms. Gray said. But she said she was not aware Mr. Gary wanted to donate more land.

"I guess it would increase the number of homes we would be able to build in a year," she said.

Some Habitat houses are built on land already owned by buyers, but their housing was substandard, Ms. Gray said. Others are built on land donated by individuals or sold to Habitat at a discount. The city of Annapolis donated land for seven homes Habitat is building there.

Some of the county's surplus land also could be used to continue the Venture Housing Program, a plan to return county land to the tax rolls and develop affordable housing, said Ardath M. Cade, county human services officer.

Several years ago, officials found 11 lots that could be developed, said Kathleen M. Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services Inc. The county sold the lots to the nonprofit corporation, which once was the county Housing and Community Development Department. The department managed a program that built and sold homes on seven of the lots in 1993 and 1994.

"It's just a matter of amassing another group of lots," Mrs. Cade said.

Venture Housing would do more than create taxable property, she said. "It also provides good housing for families that we believe are going to be stable citizens in their communities," she said. "The community people would need to be aware of it and understand that this is housing that could complement their communities."

Arundel Community Development Services would be willing to manage the program again, Ms. Koch said.

"Increasing the opportunity for first-time homebuyers is the goal of the county, and certainly the Venture Housing Program is a step in that direction," she said.

Building more affordable housing by 2000 is part of a county plan that includes helping families purchase existing houses through counseling and loan programs.

Acquiring land is an important part of creating new housing, according to the plan, which was released in May.

"One of the largest and most critical cost factors in housing construction is land," the plan states. "As land prices have risen in the county, the higher costs are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher housing prices."

Anne Arundel families earning the county median income of $45,147 cannot afford to buy a home at the median price in the county of $145,241, according to the plan. Families earning a low to moderate income can afford homes priced from $57,000 to $90,000, the plan says.

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