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New advisory group to assess housing affordability in Carroll County, hold summit in early 2020

As the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County, Bryan Lyburn spends a lot of time thinking about housing, particularly housing for working people who might have a hard time affording it.

But in that role he also began to wonder about other aspects of housing in Carroll, from apartments to seniors to the stock of starter homes for new homebuyers to the supply of luxury homes for the well heeled.

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“The Carroll County Realtors are talking about homes, the Circle of Caring is talking about homelessness," Lyburn said, "but where is somebody really looking at housing as a whole in our community? How it affects economic development, commuting, everything? I realized it really didn’t exist.”

So Lyburn stepped up to fill that gap. After writing to the Board of County Commissioners in November, he received the board’s blessing — and a liaison in the former of Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 1 — to create a community group to discuss housing issues and advise the board on the topic going forward. In a Nov. 1 letter from County Administrator Roberta Windham on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, the board also pledged support in the form of county staff as necessary.

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Sometime in the first quarter of 2020 — the exact date to be determined — Lyburn hopes to bring together all the stakeholders involved in housing in Carroll that he can to help determine just what the advisory group will look like and will discuss at future meetings.

“This advisory work group can bring people together, from for-profit, nonprofit, developers, builders, real estate agents, social services, everybody, and help provide some guidance to the county around housing,” Lyburn said. “Hopefully we will come off that summit with some direction and a leadership team and start work in 2020.”

And while the work group will look at all aspects of housing in Carroll, affordable housing — and just what that means — will be a priority.

“We always hear about ‘affordable housing’ or ‘workforce housing,’ " Frazier said in an interview. “What do they think that actually means? We need a good working definition of affordable and workforce housing for Carroll County, what does it mean, how can we achieve it? That’s what I am looking for as a starting product from the committee.”

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Lyburn’s personal definition is pretty simple.

“For me, it’s one job, one salary, equals one home. If you get a job doing something in our community, you should be able to afford housing with that income and we should have it for you,” he said. “If you make a million dollars a year, we need to have a $4 million house for you, but if you make $13 an hour, we need to have a house for you, too.”

And he’s not just talking about home ownership.

“Everybody shoudn’t own a home, everybody doesn’t want to own a home,” Lyburn said. “Either you don’t want to or maybe financially you are not able to, but you still need a home.”

So that includes affordable apartments to rent for young people first entering the workforce, as well as retired seniors with fixed incomes between $12,000 and $20,000 per year.

And it includes single-family homes for the people who teach, administer and protect the people of Carroll, Lyburn said, noting that 101 Carroll County Sheriff’s Office employees commute to work from Pennsylvania. Sheriff Jim DeWees confirmed that statistic, adding that of the 273 people who work for the Sheriff’s Office, 119 total, or or 43.5%, live outside of Carroll.

“A salary of 30-couple — you shouldn’t spend more than third of your income on housing, so $10,000 a year,” he said. “You live around here, what’s a $1,000 a month rental look like? You can get a one-bedroom. If you look around you might find something cool. They are hard to find, that’s the trick. There’s just not enough of it.”

Frazier said a priority of his is to “keep the young people of Carroll County in Carroll County.”

“My daughter, her and her fiance, they purchased a house in Littlestown [Pennsylvania]. Why? Because they could get a single-family home for a cheaper price than they can get a townhouse in Carroll County,” he said.

Can even a collective of stakeholders make a difference in that affordability at the county level? That’s what the advisory group will meet to find out, Frazier said, as there’s no one else trying to answer that question right now.

“I think it’s necessary to do so we can move forward,” he said.

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