Renters also deserve a voice in communityThe article about...


April 11, 1999

Renters also deserve a voice in community

The article about the Columbia Council election in Long Reach Village was very disturbing to me ("Long Reach renter issue sparks election debate," April 1).

I do not know the details of each candidate's merits, but I do know that the comments of incumbent Cecilia Januszkiewicz make her an unacceptable candidate, regardless of her previous record as a member of the council.

Since when does homeownership make one a more worthy citizen than a renter? I thought that the concept that property owners were the only individuals who could have a say in government was as obsolete as limiting voting privileges to white males.

Although rules about voting for Columbia Council and village boards are not identical to federal, state and local election laws, I doubt that the intent was to make renters second-class citizens.

Ms. Januszkiewicz's statement about the nature of renters -- "They're not necessarily permanent residents, or people with more permanent roots in the community" -- smacks of an elitism that is distasteful and hurtful.

Not everyone can afford to be a homeowner, but that should not preclude their full participation in the life and decision-making of their community.

Roni Goss Berkowitz, Columbia

Affordable housing for the truly needy

I would like to thank Philip Valle for his letter to the editor in The Sun in Howard April 5 ("Merdon suggests teachers can `eat cake'").

I am a firm believer in holding our public officials accountable for the actions they take and the statements they make. The issue of affordable housing is sensitive and often invites heated debate.

The Howard County executive and the County Council will be faced with deciding the future of Howard County in the area of affordable housing. The debate should not focus on public employees, but rather the truly needy. We have a significant percentage of residents who earn less than $20,000 a year. It is my belief that the county government has the responsibility to help those who fall within the realm of low income.

A person making in the range of minimum wage cannot easily afford the $80,000 to $130,000 house that Leonard Vaugh, director of public housing, defines as affordable.

I commend the Housing Authority for its efforts to define affordable housing, but I believe it is missing the needs of its target audience. While reviewing proposals the council is asked to consider, I will consistently ask whether any initiative will move people in the lower income bracket into their own homes.

While I understand that the county needs to address the issue of teacher salaries, I do not believe it is fair to the disadvantaged to tie it to the issue of affordable housing. The proposed increase in teacher salaries will be addressed in the appropriate forum through the budget process.

Christopher J. Merdon, Ellicott City

The writer is a Howard County councilman.

Reading my own obituary

When Sun reporter Edward Lee said he wanted to do a profile of me as a community activist, I was surprised and reluctant. I am but one of hundreds of volunteers in Howard County, and our country, who enjoy being active in community affairs.

As any one of this number will attest, volunteerism is based on the desire to better the quality of life beyond the boundaries of one's own immediate life.

Volunteers don't seek compensation or public glorification. But if journalists are going to seek them out to write profiles of them, they must get the facts straight and, in what they write, truly reflect what that volunteer is all about.

In his profile of me published April 2 ("Longtime activist Sieg to retire"), Mr. Lee did not write about my philosophy of life as I related it to him; how I believe each citizen in a democracy has a magnificent opportunity and obligation to be involved in bettering community life -- not a novel idea, but one that excites me.

Instead, Mr. Lee chose to concentrate on my "retirement." In effect, he wrote my obituary. (There is nothing as certain to make you feel irrelevant as reading your obituary before your death.)

True, I am moderating the depth and intensity of my work in some areas. True, I am resigning an active role in the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites. But this is only so I can devote time to writing a book about the amazing strides of this organization to help save Maryland cemeteries from wanton desecration and destruction.

Have I "retired" from involvement in community affairs? Never. Have I quit as volunteer coordinator and caretaker of the 19th century Whipps Cemetery in Ellicott City? Not until my final breath.

While volunteers work on different problems and in different arenas -- and depending on age, health and other circumstances, at differing levels of intensity -- we all share this truth: Volunteerism is a state of the mind, the heart and the soul.

Volunteers may die, but they rarely "retire."

Barbara Sieg, Ellicott City

A council trying to make its own rules?

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