Boost for affordable housing Howard County: Needed mortgage subsidy program should turn renters into owners.

December 31, 1997

SOME GOOD NEWS has come in a jurisdiction begging for affordable housing. Four Columbia communities are among 34 Maryland neighborhoods included in a $40 million state program to provide low-interest homes to encourage homeownership.

The program has two purposes: Erecting a bridge to homeownership for families that otherwise would continue to rent, and helping to stabilize salvageable communities.

Maryland has awarded Howard County $3.5 million in state grants, hoping to turn renters into homeowners in Long Reach, Owen Brown, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. Leonard Vaughan, director of the county's Office of Housing and Community Development, says some of the grant money will go toward repairing homes in those villages that are becoming dilapidated.

The rest will subsidize mortgage interest rates, helping low- to moderate-income families borrow home loans at 4 percent. The subsidized rates are a good way to increase the purchasing power of families. The program will be offered to buyers who earn between $18,000 and $24,000. Census data from 1990 show that for households earning $20,000 or less, only 4 percent of Howard County housing is considered affordable.

Older Columbia villages, where the number of renters is rising, are ideal for this program. Although young compared to Baltimore city and county, older villages have lost some of their youthful luster. Neighborhoods are vulnerable to decay without a sufficient number of homeowners.

The housing program also could help people like Charles Morton, 35, of Baltimore, who plans to apply for a loan. While making deliveries in Columbia for a Burtonsville dry cleaner for more than a decade, he dreamed of a home he thought he never could afford.

"Columbia is like home to me," Mr. Morton told a reporter for The Sun recently. "I've always liked the spirit of Columbia, the people and the community. I've watched it grow, but I've always felt like I couldn't live out here. Now, I won't have to rent. I can, hopefully, buy, and best of all, it will be mine."

New homeowners can help themselves -- and breathe new life into once-vibrant communities.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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