Housing program to be ended

County official notes declining participation

August 25, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's housing counseling program will be discontinued for apparent lack of interest, an official told the county commissioners yesterday.

A first-time homebuyers education program in June drew only one person - a news reporter, said Michael G. Ritter, deputy director of the county's Department of Citizen Services, and only one person has signed up for a fall class. So, the Housing Counseling Program of Carroll County has been closed after 12 years.

"We're just not seeing that many people who might be interested in it," he said.

The annual cost to the county to staff the program is about $32,000.

Carroll's program began in 1991 and was certified a year later by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ritter said it has provided help in four areas: buying a home, avoiding foreclosure, rehabilitating structures, and - for the elderly - explaining how reverse mortgages might allow them to remain in their homes.

The program later assumed responsibility for some state loan programs for things such as indoor plumbing and lead-paint abatement, he said.

Hundreds of people have made use of the program over the years, Ritter said, and the department still is working with 74 clients.

Last year, the program helped 89 clients with renovations, 19 with reverse mortgages, 131 with mortgage defaults and 191 with prepurchase agreements. However, those figures may be misleading, Ritter cautioned, because some clients fell into more than one category.

Ritter said the reduced demand for service no longer justifies the county's financial commitment. The grant money will be reallocated.

"You've given such generous support to the program over the years, we wanted to let you know what was taking place," he told the commissioners.

Some homeowner-assistance services can be provided by other agencies, Ritter said. These include the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development's Community Development Administration, for first-time and disabled homebuyers, and home-repair programs; Maryland Rural Development, for senior citizen grants, low-cost home-repair loans and first-time mortgages; Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., for utility and tax-credit assistance; the Bureau of Aging, for senior assistance; and the Westminster City Office of Housing and Community Development, for prepurchase education.

The Department of Citizen Services will oversee a housing study and an assessment of housing needs in the county, with an emphasis on low- and moderate-income levels.

The commissioners awarded yesterday the contract for the study to Innovative Housing Institute of Baltimore, which submitted the low bid of $26,000. The bid - one of two - was $14,000 below the approved funding level of $40,000.

"The survey of housing will tell us what is available to rent and where," Ritter said earlier this year. The working poor face many housing obstacles, with an average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit in the county about $600, plus a security deposit of at least one month's rent.

The commissioners also accepted a $37,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for an interagency training plan for dealing with domestic violence. Under the program, a nonprofit group, Sidran Inc., will provide training to schools, courts, law enforcement, clergy, social service, health and other agencies that could be passed on to others in the community.

The commissioners also voted to repave a section of John Pickett Road and Leroy Court. They deferred action on a 1,000-foot stretch of John Pickett Road that is to be realigned and paved because the county is considering a new policy on gravel roads.

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