Report notes housing crisis

Action needed to ensure affordability, draft analysis from task force warns

October 13, 2006

The scarcity of housing in Howard County for moderate- and low-income families will worsen without aggressive action, an interim report from a community task force warns.

The report is a draft and has not been adopted by the full 23-member task force, but it leaves no ambiguity that the problem is of crisis proportions.

A companion analysis commissioned by the panel says more than one-quarter of the county's households exceed the threshold of affordability by paying more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, in some cases far more.

That analysis, prepared by Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob Finance Institute, says there is a shortage of 20,800 housing units in the county for low- and middle-income families.

It also says that an additional 6,275 units in those categories are needed "just to meet the estimated demand that will be created by the projected growth" in the county.

Those 27,000 units do not account for the entire problem, according to members of the task force.

Timothy J. Sosinski, a member of the panel and a principal with the architectural, engineering and planning firm ARIUM Inc., said many families live in affordable housing but that those homes will cost more once they are sold.

"What is currently the affordable housing stock is going away," he said Tuesday night as the task force met in two groups to deliberate a broad array of issues.

Although the draft report acknowledges that it is "difficult to quantify in absolute numbers," it says that the need for affordable housing is "indisputable." And it says that it is "inevitable" that the problem will grow.

The 23-member task force was appointed in June by County Executive James N. Robey to recommend steps to alleviate the problem.

Those recommendations are expected by the end of the month. It is unclear what will become of them because Robey is leaving office, as are at least four members of the County Council.

The task force hopes that its final report will benefit the county's newly elected officials as they grapple with the thorny issue.

The roots of the problem are soaring prices for land and housing.

The interim report says that in the four years that ended last year, the median selling price for a condominium in the county rose 158 percent; townhouses increased 100 percent; and single-family homes rose 71 percent.

Clinch's analysis underscores the ramifications of those price increases: A buyer needed an annual income last year of at least $124,000 to afford the average home in the county.

The rental market "is equally troubling," the interim report says. It notes that vacancy rates are exceedingly low and that the median monthly rent was $1,194 in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available. It estimates that the median has since risen to $1,373.

The report says that the number jobs paying less than $50,000 annually is expected to grow by 35,000 over 10 years. "Given inflation, the $50,000 income of 2015 will buy much less housing than it will today," the report says. ...

"Inclusive housing gave the community the economic balance that has made it thrive," the report says. "However, progressively, we have been diminishing this advantage by moving toward less economically inclusive housing. ...

"This expected crisis will only exacerbate what has been a growing gap in housing affordability in the region as housing scarcity continues to drive up prices for rental and home ownership. This will be felt across a wide range of income groups, not just the very low income by any means."

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