Workers' housing access widened

City council loosens standards to qualify for affordable homes


Annapolis is moving to broaden access to an underutilized program that sets aside "workforce housing" at new and renovated residential developments.

On Monday, the city council unanimously approved five amendments that members said would likely increase the number of eligible applicants. With the changes, school system staff and people who have worked in the city for at least a year will be eligible to apply for the set-aside units.

The program has been open to qualified city residents and workers, including full-time teachers.

Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, a Ward 3 Democrat who introduced the amendments, said the situation is urgent because affordable housing units that are up for sale will revert to market price if buyers cannot be found. At the 1901 West condominium development at West Street and Chinquapin Road, for instance, 36 affordable housing units are for sale, but there are 26 people on the affordable housing waiting list citywide.

Nearly half of applicants for workforce housing have been turned down since the application process began in September because of income, residency or employment restrictions.

A city law passed in 2004 requires that developers of new subdivisions set aside 12 percent of units for workforce housing. The aim was to expand the stock of housing available for city employees and others. At least 6 percent of new or rehabilitated rental units are to be set aside under the city law.

But a challenge has been finding applicants who meet the minimum income and credit guidelines for buying a home, but who don't make too much.

For example, a family of four had to earn less than $57,750 a year. The amendments raised the income cap so that a family of four can have a maximum income of $72,200 a year. And with the amendments, non-city residents who have worked in the city for at least a year will be eligible. Staff members at Annapolis feeder schools also will be among those who can qualify for the set-aside units.

The council has also considered allowing nonprofit groups to buy units and make them available to eligible buyers. That proposal was opposed by Dean L. Johnson, a former mayor who is now vice president of Anne Arundel Habitat for Humanity.

He said that involving nonprofits would create another level of management rather than attract more potential homeowners. Alderman Samuel E. Shropshire, a Ward 7 Democrat, said reaction to the idea was mixed after lengthy discussions in a housing and development committee meeting. The amendments will sufficiently address the supply-and-demand imbalance, Shropshire said.

"The easiest way to make sure housing is available is to open up the latitude of participants so we'll have sufficient number of people to qualify," he said.

The nonprofit legislation could come up again next month. For now, housing advocates said, the approved amendments are a step in the right direction as housing prices continue to rise.

"I think this is a great improvement for the program," said Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the Annapolis Housing Authority.

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