The article "Low-Income housing fears stirred in Oakland Mills" in the Nov. 14 edition discussed the community's reaction to the purchase of Verona Apartments by the Howard County Housing Commission. You bet we're stirred up.
For years, County Executive [Ken] Ulman and members of the County Council have consistently touted their support for providing "full spectrum" housing in communities throughout the county. Full spectrum meaning high end, middle and affordable/low income housing in the same community or development. For years, these have been empty words as the county has approved the development of 5,500 mostly upscale housing units for downtown Columbia and did not require the developer, Howard Hughes Corporation, to provide even one unit of affordable/low income housing.
In the huge upscale Maple Lawn development off Route 216, the developer was allowed to build the modest number of affordable/low-income housing units required by the county off-site in less affluent areas of the county. Now, a recently passed county law allows developers to merely pay a fee instead of providing any affordable housing at all in or out of their development.
Meanwhile, the Housing Commission, appointed by the county executive and approved by the council, has purchased two large apartment complexes in Oakland Mills and created more affordable/low-income housing units in a community that already has much more than its fair share. The first complex was turned into all fully subsidized apartments. The most recent was the purchase of Verona. In each case, they did so without notifying or discussing their plans with our community. So much for open government and transparency.
What really upsets our community is the breach of trust caused by the actions of our county officials. A few years before the Verona purchase, the county also had plans to purchase Grand Pointe apartments in the same area of our village. The Oakland Mills Community accidentally learned of those plans before the contract was signed and managed to convince the county leaders that an additional concentration of affordable/low income apartments would have a negative impact on our community. We strongly and clearly expressed our desire that instead they help us attract high-end ownership development in keeping with the "full spectrum" housing concept they all said they supported.
I guess the lesson learned by the county officials/Housing Commission during the Grand Point experience was don't let the community know about your plan until it's a done deal.
Barbara L. Russell