Ask about BRAC

Housing demand near Fort Meade

Brent and Trish, Catonsville: When will the first people impacted by BRAC begin to enter into the Fort Meade area? We have a home in Baltimore County in the community of Highfields, overlooking the campus of UMBC. We are approximately 12 minutes to Fort Meade via I-95, and we're looking to sell our home. Is there a place where we can post our home for sale to these people who are looking to buy within close proximity to Fort Meade within the next several months? (Submitted March 31, 2008)

Tim Wheeler, Sun reporter: The moves to Fort Meade by the Defense Information Systems Agency, the offices of Adjudication and Hearing and Appeals, and the Defense Media agency are not expected to begin until 2009. Construction is just beginning this year, and won't be finished until late 2009 or 2010. DISA is hiring locally, and allowing some telecommuting, but I'm not sure whether that's going to translate into much demand for homes here for the time being.

I'm not aware of any special place to advertise homes for sale to those who'll be working at Fort Meade. I'd suggest listing it with an agent, but advertising it in publications and on Web sites that cater to the broader region. But if you want something base-specific, the Fort Meade newspaper, Soundoff!, takes ads; here's a link for information.

Walter Reed closure

Lisa, Bethesda: I'm looking for a specific piece of information about the Walter Reed/NNMC BRAC issue, and that is: When was this particular project first envisioned? I'm curious because I wonder how neatly it dovetails into the Montgomery County Master Plan, many aspects of which seem to have been approved (in concept, at least) as far back as 20 years ago. Do you have that information? Thanks so much. (Submitted Dec. 18, 2007)

Tim Wheeler, Sun reporter: The proposal to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center and moving it to the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda apparently first came up as part of the 2005 round of mlitary base closures and realignments that we know as BRAC. When announced in May 2005, the move was described as part of a larger Department of Defense plan to transform military medicine into a multi-service operation. It was subsequently approved by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission and approved by Congress. I think it's fair to say Montgomery County had not planned on this level of expansion in such a short time at the hospital's Bethesda campus. County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council President Mike Knapp recently wrote the Navy asking for more federal funding to help deal with what they anticipate will be major traffic problems in the area caused by this move.

BRAC real estate strategies

Thom, Baltimore City: I have a question regarding the sale of real estate property to help support the efforts of BRAC. A colleague of mine is looking at relocating to Florida on business and is trying to sell their house on the outskirts of Baltimore City. I suggested getting in contact with a representative of BRAC. Do you have any suggestions as to how they can list their house as potential property for those looking to purchase as a part of their realignment? (Submitted Dec. 4, 2007)

Tim Wheeler, Sun reporter: There really aren't any official government "BRAC representatives" involved in helping relocating workers find housing to buy or rent. I understand real estate agencies and/or local boards of Realtors are sending information about available homes to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, and they may be doing the same for employees of Defense Information Systems Agency in Northern Virginia. I'd suggest your colleague list her or his house with an agent who has advertised in the Fort Monmouth base newspaper, the Message, or can demonstrate some other reasonable method for reaching the potential transferees from either Monmouth or DISA. Of course, employees of defense contractors also would be a good market, but that's even more diverse and dispersed. Your best bet is to make sure the property is on Multiple Listing Service, of course, and in any ad or listing play up the home's proximity to either or both Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

Impact of BRAC on Md. taxpayers

Terry, Davidsonville: There's been a lot of hype about the military closures and realignments in Maryland and Virginia. We see numbers like 28,000 new families moving to Maryland and generating $500 million in state and local taxes. What we don't see are the costs -- upgrades to state/local infrastructure, increased traffic congestion, school upgrades, air quality impacts, etc. Has anyone actually estimated these costs. And when you compare them to the $500 million in revenue -- are we in the red or black? What's the real impact to the taxpayers in Maryland? (Submitted Oct. 26, 2007)

Tim Wheeler, Sun reporter: Terry, if I knew what the real impact of BRAC would be to Maryland taxpayers, my editors would let me take the rest of the day off!

Seriously, there is no simple or official answer, so I've been spending the better part of a year poking away at this question. Here's what we've reported so far, in a nutshell:

1) A study by a think tank at Towson University projected the influx of people with relatively high-paying jobs ought to generate $468 million in local and state property and income taxes, statewide.

That report, produced for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, did point out that the 45,000 to 60,000 additional jobs and 28,000 households it projected might pose problems with traffic congestion, schools, water and sewer, and security clearances. But it didn't even try to estimate the costs to deal with those.

2) A more recent study by the Sage Policy Group, a private economic consulting firm, did quantify the costs of government services for newcomers around Aberdeen Proving Ground and weighed those against anticipated tax revenues. It predicted a substantial net gain for the localities most affected in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Harford County, for instance, was projected to come out ahead to the tune of $16.2 million a year.

But the study, done for the regional group supporting Aberdeen's buildup, also pointed out that that there are potential "shortfalls" to be dealt with. There may not be enough housing, public school classrooms, wastewater treatment and highway and transit capacity ready for the additional people by the time they show up. It didn't really say how those problems might be resolved, or how to pay for addressing them before the additional tax revenues started flowing in.

Of course, a complicating factor in all this is the huge uncertainty over where people will settle when the jobs relocate here. Some may choose to commute long-distance or work via telecommuting for a while, easing the strain on gridlocked highways and crowded classrooms. Where the newcomers end up buying or renting homes ultimately depends on the cost and availability of housing, the quality of schools, job opportunities for other household members and other factors.

If your head's hurting by now, welcome to the club. There are still a lot of unknowns, which is why we'll keep reporting on BRAC until the answers are clearer.

One "official" estimate of what BRAC may cost Maryland taxpayers in the short term should come next month. That's when the governor's "BRAC Subcabinet," headed by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, is scheduled to release a draft report on what's needed to be ready for the influx of workers and people. Stay tuned.

BRAC influx in Harford

Debbie, Harford County: When are the first families moving to the area? Do you have information on anticipation of a housing shortage? Do you have any information on contacting the relocation specialist from Fort [Monmouth]? My home is currently on the market -- I am curious regarding the timeline for the civilians moving to Harford County. (Submitted Oct. 12, 2007)

Tim Wheeler, Sun reporter: If you're hoping base realignment will help sell your house, you may need to be patient. A few workers or families have already moved to the Baltimore area, primarily defense contractors getting set up in anticipation of the base realignment. Fort Monmouth officials also are recruiting volunteers for an advance party of 32 to transfer to Aberdeen Proving Ground sometime this fall, though the exact date has not been set. There are likely to be more transfers in 2008; but the majority of the jobs will not be moving to Maryland until 2009, 2010 or even 2011.

You ask if anyone is anticipating a housing shortage from base realignment. A report last month by Sage Policy Group predicted that base-related growth would put further strain on an already tight housing market in Harford County. When using mid-case population growth projections, the consulting firm predicted that demand for new housing would exceed projected supply over the next decade by 6 percent to 7 percent. You can read the entire report by going to this Web site and clicking on the link for "CSSC Demographics Study" in the box on the right side of the Web page.

The report said new housing would need to be built faster than currently planned in order to keep up with demand, if the county is to absorb all the households it is projected to. Otherwise, more families may wind up buying or renting in neighboring counties, or even in Pennsylvania or Delaware. Another possible outcome of a tight housing market is that vacancy rates in Harford will drop and prices go up, the consultants said. But the impact of all that isn't likely to be felt, remember, until the jobs actually start moving here in larger numbers.

As for a relocation specialist for Fort Monmouth employees, the base's Web site offers information for employees planning to transfer. The links there are to APG, to the regional base-realignment office and other jurisdictions in the area. On those you'll find info on schools, employment and housing, plus a nifty Harford County "relocation map" that breaks out income and housing data by ZIP code.

Hope this information has been of help. Thanks for contacting The Sun.

Do you have questions for Sun reporters about the base realignment process, what it means for Maryland or how it will affect your community? Send an email with your question, name and where you live to brac@baltimoresun.com; selected responses will be posted online.

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