The candlelight vigil scheduled tonight on Church Circle in Annapolis is not merely a way of calling attention to the plight of the homeless, though it comes on the one-year anniversary of Housing Now, a march on Washington that drew 250,000 people.

The vigil is also part of a lobbying effort aimed at Maryland's two U.S.

senators, one of whom is negotiating legislation in a joint congressional subcommittee to protect residents of government-subsidized housing.

"The purpose of this meeting is to make every effort to urge Sen. (Paul) Sarbanes to hang tough," said Bruce Abernethy, director of the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition, which is sponsoring the rally.

Abernethy said the future of subsidized housing throughout the United States is at a crossroads because 20-year-old agreements allowing landlords to pay off their low-interest government-backed mortgages and evict tenants are starting to take effect.

He said there are about 32,000 families in the state and 300,000 in the country who could be affected. "We are concerned where a lot of them would go," Abernethy said. "A lot of these tenants don't even know this is a possibility."

When laws were first written in 1970, Abernethy said Congress had to give incentives to investors so they would provide low-income housing. The deal included loans at only 2 or 3 percent interest rates, with the provisions allowing mortgages to be paid off but containing no protection for renters against higher rents or having their buildings sold.

House and Senate subcommittee members, including Sarbanes, are working on a bill that would prevent owners from selling.

Abernethy said he would like to see the bill offer incentives to induce owners to keep the housing for low-income people or, in the event of a sale, require owners to sell either to the federal government or to a non-profit agency.

"When the federal program went into effect 20 years ago, they didn't think it would be a problem," Abernethy said. "They didn't think that many owners would want to sell. They wanted to make it as flexible as possible."

The vigil, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Church Circle, will feature Sarbanes as the key speaker.

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