Housing squeeze

October 06, 2006

New housing data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau confirm what Maryland residents and other Americans already know: People are feeling the pinch of rising housing costs in the rental and sales markets. It's really starting to hurt, and those hurting most are moderate- and low-income families.

According to a nationwide community survey conducted by the Census Bureau, 45.3 percent of the state's renters spent at least 30 percent of their income on rent last year and thus bypassed the affordability threshold. Meanwhile, Maryland homeowners paid about $266 more in monthly mortgage payments than the national median of $1,295.

Homeowners at least get tax benefits, but there's little relief for renters if cost trends continue upward. This makes it all the more imperative for Baltimore housing officials to ensure that affordable rentals for middle-income people are as readily available as the pricey apartments going up around the city. Though we support the city's laudable efforts to increase affordable and subsidized rental housing for the working poor, we don't want those in the middle overlooked.

The city's promotional efforts have largely targeted prospective homeowners and touted the financial benefits of buying a home here; housing officials should give prospective middle-income renters reason to move to Baltimore as well. But the city needs more moderately priced rentals, and a commitment by public and private sectors to improve the quality of the existing stock.

Baltimore had the highest percentage of renters in the state last year and the lowest median household income. The high costs of homes in the Washington area have sent buyers to Baltimore, effectively building up the city's tax base. But more than half of the city's residents are renters, and they can't be ignored.

City housing administrators seem cognizant of this and have included a mix of market-rate and below-market-rate affordable rentals in recent city-sponsored redevelopment deals by leveraging rising land values. Private developers must also play a part in providing mixed housing.

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