Incentives to boost supply of affordable housing weighed

October 16, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

Faced with an acute and growing problem, a task force is considering incentives aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing in Howard County.

The task force has made no formal recommendations but is examining initiatives to aid first-time homebuyers and the developers the county is relying on to build the housing.

The inducements include:

A deferral of county property taxes for several years, perhaps as many as 10. The taxes would be paid at the end of the grace period or when the residence was resold.

Levying property taxes only on the percentage of the home owned by the resident. It is presumed that many of the units built will be partly owned by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Allowing developers to build affordable units immediately, despite county restraints that typically delay construction for several years. The number of units built would not increase, but developers could build lower-priced housing sooner.

The committee, which was appointed by Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, includes county officials, developers, land-use attorneys and representatives of organizations promoting middle-income and low-income housing.

It is unclear when the task force will conclude its work. It was envisioned that the recommendations would be made in tandem with proposals for zoning changes to preserve more land and further restrict development in the western region of the county.

One proposal was to transfer 100 units from the west to affordable housing in other areas of the county. But the question of how to better manage growth in the west was thrown into confusion last week when another citizens committee declined to support zoning changes in western Howard County.

Nonetheless, there is a consensus that the shortage of affordable housing is severe and getting worse.

"We have become a community that no longer is producing midde-income subdivisions. Everything that we're producing is high end," Leonard S. Vaughan, director of housing and community development, said in an interview.

"But if you look at the demographics, 80 or 85 percent of the people fall in the middle income bracket or less, so we're not producing housing for the majority of our residents."

With most townhouses in the county starting about $550,000, Vaughan said, an annual income of about $175,000 would be required to qualify for a mortgage.

"Anyone who is earning less than that can't buy," he said. "If they don't have a house now, or if they don't have equity from a prior housing, they are priced out of the market."

The tax incentives under consideration are being tested at New Colony Village, a development of moderately priced units in Jessup, Vaughan said.

If a unit was valued at $300,000 and was 49 percent owned by the Department of Housing and Community Development, the resident would be taxed only on the remaining 51 percent he owned, $153,000.

"What we're interested in doing is making sure that the resident can stay in their house," Vaughan said. "They are paying on what they own, which is a fair concept."

Any recommendations by the task force will be subject to approval by the County Council.

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