Conference calls for `work force' housing

Coalition says home costs too high in Baltimore area

September 22, 2004|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

With soaring prices putting homes out of reach of many Baltimore-area workers such as firefighters, teachers and secretaries, an unusual coalition including real estate interests and advocates for the poor called on the state yesterday to act to boost the supply of "work force" housing.

"We're in the midst of a crisis," Ed Gold, president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said during a one-day conference on housing affordability at a downtown Baltimore hotel.

With homes in Baltimore's suburbs selling last month for $250,000 to nearly $390,000 on average, more and more police officers, firefighters and other public employees are moving an hour or more from their jobs to find houses they can afford, speakers said. That migration is adding to growing traffic congestion in a state that already puts its workers through the second-longest commutes in the country, by one recent estimate.

The Baltimore region has 10,000 fewer homes than it needs for its work force, said Gold, president of the local division of Ryland Home. Planners project that shortfall could exceed 78,000 homes by 2025.

"You have the beginning of what is going to choke off the economy of the state," he said.

Natalie Brown, a 27-year-old teacher from Eldersburg, told the group yesterday that she had to live with her sister when she moved back to Maryland a few years ago because she could not afford her own place with her Anne Arundel County teacher's pay. Even after marrying, she and her engineer husband searched fruitlessly until they bought a $315,000 home in Carroll County. But the two-hour-plus round-trip commute every day - and the lack of time with her 8-year-old son - drove her to quit her job in Anne Arundel and seek work closer to home.

Gold said home builders organized the coalition out of frustration with recent curbs on residential development imposed by suburban counties. "Constraints on land use are driving prices through the roof," he said.

In addition to representatives of state troopers, teachers, firefighters and public employees, the coalition includes low-income housing groups, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and 1000 Friends of Maryland, which advocates "smart growth" in developed areas. The conference was co-sponsored by several area businesses, including The Sun.

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