By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
5:00 AM EST, November 18, 2013
The Baltimore County Council is poised to block a low-income housing project planned in Rosedale by turning down state funding, citing fears the development would lead to increased crime and crowd the local elementary school.
The move comes a month after another developer dropped plans to build an affordable-housing project in White Marsh that also faced strong community opposition.
Housing advocates say resistance to such projects could exacerbate a worrisome shortage of homes for low-income residents in the county.
The Rev. Joseph Sanders, president of the nonprofit Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, called the Rosedale proposal to build homes for residents who earn less than 60 percent of the county's median income "commendable" and efforts to block it "disturbing."
"We know that homelessness and hunger and poverty are not just a city issue, they're a county issue," Sanders said. "And it's growing in numbers on a daily basis because of the economy, because of our culture."
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins has sponsored a resolution opposing the $13.7 million project in Rosedale by Homes for America, an Annapolis-based nonprofit that builds affordable housing. The Middle River Democrat, whose district includes the proposed site, said the development would further concentrate poor people in one area.
A vote on Bevins' resolution is set for Monday.
Homes for America has proposed the 50-unit Homes at McCormick development at 5501 McCormick Ave. and is seeking more than $1 million in public financing from the state for the project. If the council approves the resolution, the state will not finance the development.
If passed, it would be the first time a county has used a resolution to block state financing for an affordable-housing project.
The state recently changed the way local governments weigh in on such projects, in hopes of easing the process. Before, local governments had to approve state financing for each project; now the financing goes through unless counties issue a resolution of disapproval.
At a council meeting last week, Bevins told colleagues that the neighborhood wasn't right for such a project, pointing out that residents there don't have access to public transportation. She also said residents are overwhelmingly against the idea.
"I'm not anti-poor people, because God knows I've been poor," Bevins said after the meeting. "It has to do with the location."
She also said the area is "already a very poor community."
The development, to be built on a grassy, 10-acre site in a neighborhood of single-family houses, would include 45 townhomes and five single-family homes. Residents would be able to purchase the homes after 15 years under a lease-to-purchase arrangement.
"We're attracting people who want to buy a home," Homes for America president Nancy Rase told the County Council.
At least five units would be reserved for Section 8 renters, who receive housing vouchers under a government program for the poor. Residents spend an average of seven years on Baltimore County's Section 8 waiting list to receive vouchers, according to the county housing office.
Last year, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration expressed support for the development. His chief of staff, Don Mohler, declined to comment on the resolution, noting it doesn't require the county executive's approval.
"As a matter of policy, County Executive Kamenetz is very supportive of creating additional workforce housing opportunities in Baltimore County," Mohler said in an email.
In a letter last year to Pax-Edwards LLC, which is Homes for America's partner on the project, Kamenetz said the county "strongly supports" the developers' application for state funding. He also said the county was willing to provide a financing package that included a $1 million loan.
The council is likely to adopt Bevins' resolution, Chairman Tom Quirk said, citing a long-standing tradition of deference on development matters to the council member whose district is involved.
"I know Councilwoman Bevins feels very strongly that the area they have to do this in already has a substantial amount of low-income housing, and this would concentrate it too much," said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.
The site is already zoned to allow for the project, but officials with Homes for America say the development is not viable without public financing. The nonprofit has applied for more than $1 million in low-income housing tax credits through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
"Without those public resources, it wouldn't be possible to develop affordable housing," Rase said.
The resolution before the council argues that the area is unsuitable for such a project because it lacks a grocery store and public transportation and because of overcrowding at McCormick Elementary School.
More than 410 students are enrolled at the school, which has a capacity of 380, but some of the students attend half-day programs, so the school system doesn't consider it to be over-capacity.
Bevins said residents are concerned that the homes would be rented to people using Section 8 vouchers, and that their presence would lead to more crime.
"Burglaries, shootings, stabbings, drugs, vandalism, and other crimes go hand-in-hand with 'Section 8' occupants," the Hazelwood-Park East Civic Association wrote in a letter opposing the project. "It does not matter if 'Section 8' occupancy is 5% or 100%, we will be inundated with crime."
The group represents the neighborhood where the project would be built. The Holland Hill Improvement Association, which represents a neighborhood to the west of the site, also opposes the project.
Rase said it's unfair to blame Section 8 residents for crime, saying much of the responsibility lies with landlords. Homes for America has two senior housing communities in the county, both of which are in Reisterstown.
"We have good, safe, well-run communities that don't have crime, whether they have Section 8 or not," she said. "Where you have real problems is where you have absentee owners who don't reside in the area, and it's just an income stream for them, not a mission."
Last month, the Shelter Group, a Baltimore-based developer, withdrew an application to the County Council to start the development process for a 120-unit affordable housing project in White Marsh.
Councilman David Marks, whose district includes that site, said the project faced intense community opposition. He said he had not yet taken a position on the project because a community input meeting hadn't been held, but believes much of his district has ample affordable housing.
"The part of Baltimore County I represent has been oversaturated with tens of thousands of townhouses and apartments, and many of them are rental units," he said.
A Shelter Group representative did not return calls seeking comment.
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