Baltimore County Council rejects low-income housing project

Baltimore County Council members rejected state funding Monday for a planned low-income housing development in Rosedale, passing a resolution expressing disapproval of the project.

In a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Kenneth Oliver abstaining, council members turned down more than $1 million in funding from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for a project planned by the nonprofit Homes for America.

"Baltimore County is becoming poorer and poorer, and a lot of people can't afford high-end housing," said Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, after the council meeting. "This was a very good project."

Without the state funding, Annapolis-based Homes for America said it can't build the 45 townhouses and five single-family homes it had proposed for a 10-acre tract in the 5500 block of McCormick Ave.

The resolution, sponsored by Middle River Democrat Cathy Bevins — whose district includes the development site — cited a lack of community support for the project. Two neighborhood groups in the area strongly opposed the proposal, expressing concern about increased crime.

County Council members traditionally defer on development matters to the colleague whose district is involved. Bevins said the development, known as Homes for McCormick, would further concentrate poor people in an area she believes already has enough affordable housing. Her resolution also cited crowding at McCormick Elementary School and stated that the location "does not offer convenient access to public transportation or nearby amenities, including a grocery store."

Bevins said she wanted to support her constituents' position.

"It's a very diverse community already," she said. "They have a tremendous amount of low-income housing."

She said she doesn't oppose affordable housing but thinks it should be "spread out" to other parts of the county, including more affluent areas.

"There are other places in Baltimore County where you never see these projects go," she said. "Northern Baltimore County, you don't see projects like this."

Some units would have been reserved for people using Section 8 vouchers, which authorizes rental housing assistance. Residents said they feared that would increase crime, but Elizabeth Sexton, co-president of the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, told the council that studies have shown those fears are unfounded.

"There's an urgent need for affordable housing in our county," she said. "It is a myth that voucher holders cause crime."

The state and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration support the development, which is meant for people earning 60 percent or less of the area's median income.

In an email Monday night, Homes for America president Nancy Rase called the council's vote disappointing but not surprising.

"Unfortunately for the families and individuals who need quality housing with below market rents, this vote represents a sad ending for Homes for McCormick," she wrote. "The development is not feasible without the state funding."

The homes would have been managed under a lease-to-purchase program, in which residents could buy the houses after 15 years.

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