Extending the reach of the American dream

Affordable housing: Interfaith group helps families of modest means buy homes in Western Maryland.

Bright Lights

January 30, 1999

A SOUP of cold mud covers a construction site in Frederick County, but Joyce Farley doesn't seem to mind. She is warmed by the realization that she, a home day-care operator, and her truck-driver husband, Mark, will be able to buy a new home in their county, which is rapidly becoming another pricey suburb of Washington.

"It's a dream we didn't think we'd be able to reach," she says. "It's made us happy to provide for our family."

By spring, the Farleys and their three children are hoping to move into a new rancher in Weinberg Knolls, a cluster of 14 factory-built homes in Woodsboro developed by Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland Inc. The subdivision exemplifies the stellar work of a coalition of religious leaders who a decade ago recognized the need for affordable housing in the state's western half.

The group has launched 17 projects, totaling $25 million and providing 380 units of housing. They range from shelters to rental apartments to homes that low- and moderate-income families can buy if they provide some "sweat equity" in helping with construction.

Among the 500,000 Marylanders who reside from Carroll to Garrett counties, as many as 40,000 are forced to double-up with relatives or remain in substandard housing, Interfaith estimates. The problems of this "shelter poor" population grows as state and federal rental aid shrinks and real estate prices rise. There is a tendency to overlook rural poverty in a state with two prosperous metropolitan areas. That is why Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is pushing for economic development in impoverished areas in western and eastern counties of the state, as well as in Baltimore.

The problem is clear to Interfaith and its partners: the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Baltimore-based philanthropy whose $500,000 grant in 1995 was critical to the organization; Farmers & Mechanics National Bank of Frederick; the Federal Home Loan Bank; USDA Rural Housing Services; and Frederick County government. They provided "blended mortgages" that let families with incomes of roughly $27,000 to buy homes.

State aid for low-income rental housing has been nearly halved in recent years -- a travesty in light of Maryland's budget surplus. "These are not just numbers," said Bishop P. Francis Murphy, western vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who chairs Interfaith Housing. "They are real people on our doorstep trying to survive in substandard housing."

Bright Lights spotlights people and organizations making a difference in the quality of life of this area. It appears periodically in this column.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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