Homeowners driven to extreme

Kim Dansker works in Annapolis. Her children's day care is in Severn. Until recently, she lived in Pasadena -- everything neatly in Anne Arundel County.

Now she drives 140 miles round trip to the day care drop-off and her job because the nice new house that she and her husband moved to in March is so far into the Eastern Shore that they're nearly in Delaware.The drive seems extreme, but commutes such as Dansker's could become commonplace. More Baltimore-area workers are likely to follow suit as homebuilding restrictions continue to widen the gap between housing supply and job growth. To get the house they want and can afford, workers would need to push farther into the Shore, leapfrog fully into Delaware, or reach to York, Pa., and beyond.

Those who've already done so often say they had no choice.

"That was our only option, to go across the bridge," said Dansker, 28, a bookkeeper whose husband commutes to the Washington suburb of Capitol Heights for his job with Verizon Communications. "Eighty percent of the community that we moved into came over from Anne Arundel County."

The average selling price for Baltimore-area homes on the multiple listing service has risen more than 80 percent in the past five years to nearly $320,000. Some counties, such as Anne Arundel, are a lot pricier. And those numbers don't include most new homes, among the priciest of all.

Meanwhile, the average apartment in newer Baltimore-area complexes with some amenities rents for $1,250 a month, and the vacancy rate is low and falling, according to real estate information firm Delta Associates.

That helps explain why the share of residents leaving the region for the Eastern Shore, Pennsylvania and Delaware jumped 36 percent from 1998 to 2004, the most recent migration statistics available. All told, 50,000 locals moved to those outer areas between 2000 and 2004 alone -- slightly more than the population of Queen Anne's County.

"There's no secret why it's occurring," said Norman Suss, project developer for Logan's Reserve in southern Pennsylvania, a Manekin LLC community whose buyers are almost entirely from the Baltimore area. "Baltimore is ... limited in terms of areas for new home growth."

"There's tremendous pressure," he said.

Developers of the Blackwater Resort Communities project in Cambridge -- 85 miles from downtown Baltimore -- expect half the buyers for the planned 2,700 units to come from the Western Shore and to commute to work across the Bay Bridge.

"We're very lucky in the Baltimore area that we're getting high-paying jobs," said consultant Brenda Desjardins, principal of New Home Marketing Services in Annapolis. "What we also have to figure out is where these people are going to live."

Stephen Snell, executive officer of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties, said he's surrounded by neighbors who work in Maryland, and he lives in Red Lion, Pa., an hour from Baltimore. At the day care center in Shrewsbury where his wife works, nine out of 10 children are dropped off by parents on the way to Maryland jobs.

"There is concern, quite frankly, that people who work in the Baltimore-Washington area, which traditionally has a higher ... salary range, are moving into York County and competing against our local citizens for that housing stock," Snell said.

This domino effect begins in Washington. People who work in and around the nation's capital are moving to the Baltimore area in increasing numbers, looking for cheaper homes. That's helped press Baltimore prices up and Baltimore workers farther out. And it's not just Baltimoreans moving to Pennsylvania and the Eastern Shore -- Washingtonians are too.

"It's two hours down and three hours back every day," said Philip Briddell, president of the York Township Board of Commissioners, who works locally but has two neighbors making the trek to Washington.

Such redefinition of commuting is a national phenomenon.

"It's happening all over the place," said John K. McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute in Washington. "What we're seeing is really the continuation of a trend that started back in the 1950s, but the affordable housing then was five miles, 10 miles away from downtown. Now the affordable housing, where it's being built, is 50 to 60 miles from downtown."

The longer commutes worry Brian England, president of Columbia-based British American Auto Care, as his newer employees are moving ever farther away from work. How long will he keep employees with a 100-mile round-trip commute, he wonders. He sees the thousands of jobs bearing down on the area because of the national military base restructuring and thinks Howard County needs more affordable housing -- fast.

"We've got to get our act together," he said.

Dan Vedder is one of England's longer-distance employees. The 22-year-old automotive technician, engaged to be married, moved in March from a rental in Baltimore to a single-family house in York, 62 miles from Columbia. The trip takes him about 70 minutes in the morning -- if he's lucky -- and 90 minutes heading home.

"For what I could afford, Pennsylvania was really just a no-brainer," said Vedder, who makes $42,000 a year. "If prices were the same in Columbia, I would have bought a house two miles from work."

His Cape Cod-style house, built in 1955, cost $142,000. He said he couldn't find even a townhouse in Reisterstown for that price. "Making the commute is worth it for me," he said.

And for Dansker, who moved to Denton in Caroline County. It's worth it to her even with the rising cost of gasoline. She figures the four-bedroom colonial, which she and her husband bought for $365,000, would go for $600,000 or $700,000 if it were near her work.

"The further the drive from Annapolis, the cheaper it's going to get," she said. A moment's thought, and she added: "But even those homes are going up."


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