Affordable housing in Howard County is a problem
Lack of affordable housing in Howard County has reached a crisis stage, but County Executive Calvin Ball and the administration are poised to do something about it.
A Housing Opportunities Master Plan Task Force held its first meeting Feb. 4. The task force will oversee a consultant who is gathering data to feed into the planning process and will deliver a master plan about a year from now.
Why is the master plan important?
- The county needs 6,574 more affordable units for families earning less than $60,000.
- Four in 10 county renters are “rent burdened,” paying more than a third of their income for rent. Two of those four rent-burdened households are paying more than half of their income.
- There are 776 households on the waiting list for Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) vouchers that will make it possible to move into affordable housing.
- An estimated 150 affordable units are necessary for households currently engaged with the Coordinated System of Homeless Services.
- 600 Howard County children are identified as homeless by the school system each year.
- 3,492 low- to moderate-income senior renters and more than 1,600 18- to 24-year-olds with disabilities lack affordable housing units.
- The high cost of housing makes home ownership — a major factor in helping families build assets and attain economic security — virtually impossible for households making $80,000 a year or less. It’s a stretch for young teachers, police officers, firefighters and social workers to buy a home in this county where they serve.
Housing policy decisions impact and are impacted by policy decisions related not just to education, but transportation, employment, health and, as we’ve come to appreciate, environmental protections. The shortage of affordable housing in the county complicates, and in some cases stymies, efforts to solve those other problems.
The coalition is looking to the Housing Opportunities Master Plan to provide a clear, achievable path for ensuring that all Howard County residents can find affordable and sustainable homes that will meet their needs and their goals.
We expect the plan will address legal, financial and regulatory barriers to the expansion and preservation of affordable housing opportunities. We also expect the plan will set goals, benchmarks and timelines. Most importantly, we expect the plan will be built on the values of inclusiveness, equity, openness, transparency and accountability.
The writer coordinates the Howard County Housing Affordability Coalition.
Courageous Conversations urge residents to speak and listen
Thanks to all those who have worked so hard to make Howard County’s Courageous Conversations possible. I had heard of it the previous two years but was too overwhelmed to sign up.
This year, I decided that getting out into my community to have courageous conversations had to trump other obligations for four Tuesday evenings in February. The practice of respectfully hearing each other out within a set time limit, allowing everyone to share their thoughts on each question, sharing insights about what we heard, and asking follow-up questions, worked beautifully to arrive at truths we had neglected.
I did not feel courageous for the conversations I had. I felt human, using my eyes to acknowledge and my ears to listen to other humans. I urge everyone to go out and have deeply human conversations on what matters to you, and listen to what matters to others with an open heart and mind. Let’s model in Howard County what we want our nation to be.
Sabrina S. Fu
Courageous Conversations is a program offered by Howard County Faith Communities. For more information, go to hococourageousconversations.com.
People can help fight climate change
I agree with Ani Thakar — action must be taken and the small minority who thinks they can make excuses for excess and greed need to be ignored. So what can we do as individuals? A Google search will tell you a lot, but here are some highlights.
Reduce, reduce and reduce: energy, driving, water use, food waste and needless shopping.
- Change to energy-efficient build in your home. This can save you a big. Twenty 60-watt incandescent bulbs for six hours per day is 2,628 KW-hours per year, where the equivalent 5-watt LEDs are 219 KW-hours per year. That’s 93% less power and cash.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. Make sure your home is insulated well.
- Heat your home in the winter to no more than 68 degrees, and cool in the summer to no less than 78 degrees.
- Invest in solar panels on your home and purchase wind energy with energy supplier choice. Look into community solar projects.
- Combine driving trips to save fuel. Carpool if possible. Get hybrid or electric cars if possible. Ride a bike and walk more for local trips.
- Conserve water. Spend less on hot water heating with shorter showers. Wash clothes in cold water. Don’t waste water on your lawn.
- Buy only what you can eat and compost what you can’t eat. Buy only what you need as far as clothes, electronics, etc. Buy local if you can.
Remember that everything has a carbon footprint and you are buying into it every time you make a choice to get that fancy new thing, extra produce from the store that will go to waste, etc., all perpetuating climate change.
Also, write to elected officials and tell them you want sustainability in local government. Support climate action with your vote!
Vote for leaders who support climate action
Two letters discussing climate change in last week’s opinion section epitomize the dichotomy of perceptions of this issue. The first author, Dr. Ani Thakar, represents those who understand scientists have studied (and continue to study) the issue and have overwhelmingly agreed there is justification to be concerned about the climate. The second author, Mr. Thomas Crawford, represents those who seem to eschew the scientific process and provide alternative, obfuscating statements while denying there is a climate issue.
Crawford expressed surprise how earlier opinion letters on the subject (one written by myself) didn’t comprehend atmospheric composition. Yes, Mr. Crawford, I and climatologists realize that a large percentage of our atmosphere is composed of “natural” greenhouse gases. That doesn’t disprove global warming. I and climatologists understand there have been a variety of warming and cooling periods in the past. That doesn’t disprove global warming.
Climatologists incorporate solar radiation, volcanic activity, land use and vegetation, orbital variations, Earth’s albedo, permafrost melting, man-made aerosols and other factors into their research and models (and share it with other scientists). If Mr. Crawford has scientific evidence that isn’t yet known to researchers, he should write a research paper and submit it to a refereed journal.
Where do the denials originate? A 2018 Yale study found only 25% of conservative Republicans believe humans are causing global warming. The Republican Party in the United States is the most powerful collection of climate deniers in the world. The 2012 Republican primary process included a litmus question about climate change. Mitt Romney reversed previous comments as a governor and declared he didn’t believe human activity caused global warming, presumably to pass the test.
All 2016 Republican primary candidates answered the question “correctly.” Fossil fuel companies pour money into the party. Republican leaders, perhaps despite personal beliefs, proclaim global warming is a hoax and laughably bring snowballs to Congress to provide proof. Republicans in the populace absorb this mentality and don’t seem to question it. Of course, not all Republicans are deniers and vice versa, but there certainly is a trend.
It is tempting to ignore the deniers, as Dr. Thakar suggests, but two out of three branches of our government are controlled by climate change deniers and, as a result, our country is not doing enough to protect our planet. My recommendation to those who support science, climate research and actions to help protect our future is to vote for leaders who believe the same.
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