Affordable-housing plan gets a reprieve

Acquisition of land in Elkridge remains possible, officials say

September 27, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Howard County housing officials won some breathing room in their bumpy quest to buy a parcel in Elkridge for affordable homes - a deal threatened by a mix-up over grant money.

Officials, who have a contract on the land but have not settled, hoped to win more time. Now it appears that the closing date, set for tomorrow, will be postponed because the owner must resolve a title problem, housing administrator Leonard S. Vaughan said yesterday.

Operating under the assumption that the county might be able to buy the land after all, he has asked for an environmental assessment of the parcel to make sure nothing toxic is mixed in the soil.

"We have to stay positive on this," he said.

The Howard County Housing Commission had hoped to purchase the 7.2-acre parcel off Old Washington Boulevard, build houses and sell them below cost to families with moderate incomes. But timing and a misunderstanding threatened to kill the deal.

Vaughan discovered belatedly that his office had not completed all steps necessary to use a federal grant for the project. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that the environmental assessment be finished before agencies commit to use the money - even if they're simply taking out a loan and intending to pay it back later with the grant, which is what Vaughan had in mind.

But in another piece of good news for housing officials, Vaughan said that HUD officials have decided to allow the county to commit to use the grant before finishing the last part of the process - advertising the findings of the environmental assessment and collecting public comments, which would take 45 to 60 days.

"That is great," he said.

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