Tale of two counties diverges over income

Housing gets blame in disparity between Baltimore, Arundel

November 27, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Based on the statistical genes that make up a local economy, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties could be identical twins.

The percentage of adults with bachelor's degrees? The same. High school graduates? Same. Number of manufacturing vs. service jobs? Pretty close.

Despite the similarities, numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that a typical household earns $61,668 in Anne Arundel County but $48,858 in Baltimore County - a difference of nearly $13,000. The gap appears to be widening.

Although changes in methodology over the years preclude a direct comparison, census statistics show that median household incomes in the counties were about the same in 1970 and 1980. But by 1990, a typical Anne Arundel household earned about 16 percent more than one in Baltimore County. Now the gap is nearly 26 percent.

Demographers and economists say several factors could have created the disparity, but a major one seems to be the tendency of families to stay in Anne Arundel as they grow more prosperous, while families in Baltimore County head north and west, to Harford and Carroll counties.

In addition, the people moving to Anne Arundel tend to be from the prosperous Washington suburbs, while those coming to Baltimore County often are from less affluent Baltimore City.

The new figures don't come from the 2000 census but from supplemental surveys of the nation's largest cities and counties, so they don't show how these trends have affected income numbers in Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

People moving to Anne Arundel County often are those in the market for expensive housing, and those moving into Baltimore County tend to be looking for less expensive starter housing, often as renters, said Anirban Basu, chief economist at RESI Research & Consulting, a Towson University think tank.

"Even though they may be young and fairly well educated, their income profile is very different," he said.

The trend of out-migration could become a problem for Baltimore County if left unchecked, causing a drain on local economies and the tax base, he said.

Part of the reason for the trend, say economists, demographers and real estate agents, is that Baltimore County doesn't have the housing stock it needs to hold on to the upwardly mobile.

"Typically, people moving out of Baltimore County are moving out to buy the big two-story colonial with the center hallway, and they're finding that in Harford and Carroll," said Patrick T. Welsh, an agent with Remax Acclaimed in Timonium.

A study by RESI for the Home Builders Association of Maryland found that Baltimore County has far fewer buildable lots left than previously thought. Accounting for current zoning and environmentally sensitive areas, the study found 5,783 acres left for development, room for 15,047 residences.

County planners had estimated there were twice that many.

"One of the problems Baltimore County has is it's not allowing for sufficient new home growth to accommodate the demands of homebuyers, and homebuyers will be undeterred. If they can't find it in Baltimore County, they'll move," Welsh said.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the lack of building space is a result of one of the county's strengths: its preservation of the rural north county.

"We planned to do that because we want to preserve our rural open spaces," he said. "We have the strictest zoning as relates to that. ... It's a philosophy in Baltimore County that we're going to preserve open space."

Anne Arundel County has capitalized on its extensive Chesapeake Bay waterfront and has seen a boom in upper-end home construction.

"Because of the quality of life around the bay and Annapolis and so forth, we do have a lot of people who have done well in business and industry," said Robert W. Burdon, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

"Most of the building going on right now is higher-priced homes - we're looking at residential development where homes are starting in the low $300s and going up to the half-million-dollar mark."

Baltimore County's shoreline, by contrast, is dominated by industry and working-class neighborhoods, although the county has been working at revitalization. When his eight years in office end next year, Ruppersberger will have funneled about $860 million in state and county funds into east-side infrastructure, schools and redevelopment.

Ruppersberger proposed an extensive revitalization project in Essex-Middle River and Dundalk last year, but it was derailed by Senate Bill 509, legislation that would have given the county broad condemnation powers. The bill was defeated in a referendum.

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