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In spirit of Rouse, Howard County Council should approve Roslyn Rise affordable housing project | COMMENTARY

The moniker “one of the wealthiest counties in America” speaks to several simultaneous truths: quality education, health care, jobs, transportation networks and cultural institutions. It also means exclusivity. While “Do I want to live in Howard County?” is answered with ease and speed, “Can I afford to live here?” is met with a different energy.

These dual questions are front and center in an ongoing conversation about affordability, the importance of neighborhood and the work of my organization — Enterprise Community Development — to keep alive Jim Rouse’s 50-year-old vision for an economically, culturally and racially inclusive Columbia.

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County Executive Calvin Ball submitted legislation to the County Council that, if passed, allows Enterprise Community Development to redevelop the aging, dilapidated and isolated Roslyn Rise into a modern, inclusive, mixed-income community that anyone would be proud to call home.

The County Council tabled the vote at its last meeting, and some members seem poised to reject the legislation altogether. If they vote to reject on Nov. 1, they will undo five years of planning by Enterprise and the property’s prior owner to redevelop the homes, improve current residents’ quality of life, and offer more market-rate and moderate-income housing opportunities in Columbia.

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Studies have shown that housing stability leads to more job opportunities and security, higher graduation rates, better health and increased quality of life. A prior Howard County Council recognized this catalytic value of high-quality affordable housing when it created the Affordable Housing Exception to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The exception requires any future council look directly at the need for affordable housing units while it evaluates a development’s possible impact on school and road capacity. It also requires the council to look at capacity in adjoining schools that could be used to accommodate any potential increase in capacity burdens.

Too often we assemble on different sides of a line — some of us for and others against. I don’t believe that people take issue with the core argument embedded in the drive for “more affordable housing,” which offers the tools we all deserve to better ourselves, our families and our country, regardless of income level. Instead, people believe they must make sacrifices to actually create more affordable housing.

We take educational outcomes seriously and have always prioritized it through resident services. While we understand that the APFO chart adopted by council this past June predicts Bryant Woods Elementary School will be substantially over capacity by the redevelopment’s scheduled completion date, the numbers used to inform this chart were generated last spring. This spring’s numbers suggest a significantly reduced projection for Bryant Woods. The decrease in projected enrollment was large enough that they recommend tabling the new elementary school slated for downtown Columbia. New developments simply haven’t created as many students as projected and adjacent schools have ample capacity to absorb growth.

I was a child who started out in Columbia with Sewell’s Orchard in my backyard and still now trace my trajectory back to Rouse’s vision of open and uplifting communities. We don’t need my example to know that the strong support system and opportunities afforded to Black families in Columbia, in a time and place where they were often otherwise unavailable, made a lasting impact in direct and indirect ways. I’m honored to now lead Enterprise Community Development as the country’s largest private affordable housing owner and developer headed by a Black chief executive, and I will end my days fighting to keep open the doors that were open for me.

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When people can afford a quality home in a community with opportunities, we all thrive and prosper together. Enterprise and the Columbia community share the same founder: Jim Rouse. His vision for Columbia is woven into our organization’s DNA, and our plans for Roslyn Rise are a long-overdue reinvestment in keeping his dream alive. Our mission is simple: to advance housing equality and life outcomes by re-imagining affordable housing.

Four members of the current council ran on platforms that included support for affordable housing. We spent five years moving forward with plans for Roslyn Rise believing that Howard County was serious in its pursuit of high-quality affordable housing for people of all incomes and backgrounds. Please join us in urging the County Council to stand by these values and allow the critical work of redeveloping Roslyn Rise to proceed. We cannot ask the residents of Roslyn Rise to wait any longer for the quality, healthy and safe homes that they deserve and for which they have been asking for a decade.

The writer is a Columbia native and president of Enterprise Community Development.

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