Plan aims for cheaper housing Howard panel finds housing costs soaring out of reach.


A 13-member task force has presented the Howard County Council with a housing plan that would reserve 40 to 60 percent of the residential units built each year for middle-, moderate- and low-income families.

To accomplish this, the council would have to adopt zoning changes that would permit the building of 20,000 apartment and townhouse units over the next 20 years, the task force said in its presentation in a two-hour meeting last night.

Its "major concern," the task force said in the 30-page report prepared by the county housing commission and the county housing and community development board, is that households with incomes of less than $60,000 a year are being priced out of the housing market.

The task force said the county is becoming "older and richer" faster than anywhere else in the region and "is not retaining its young or even a significant portion of its middle class residents."

The average cost of a new townhouse is $168,000, the report said, putting it beyond the reach of "the typical working class family." Debt service alone would require a yearly income of about $67,700 -- 167 percent of the Baltimore area median income for a family of four, the task force said.

Buyers of single-family detached homes would need even larger incomes. Average prices for those homes range from $210,000 to $250,000 the task force told the council.

Renters fare little better. The average market rate, excluding utilities, ranges from $638 for a one-bedroom unit to $884 for a three-bedroom unit, the report said.

To promote "affordability," the task force recommended the council adopt "the one tool which has been successful in other jurisdictions" -- laws "requiring development of units priced to sell and rent at the lower end of the market."

Specifically, the task force called on the council to adopt a "moderate priced dwelling unit program" that would require builders who develop 40 or more units to set aside at least 10 percent of the units for people of moderate income -- defined as $20,000 to $35,000 annually.

Even if such a program were adopted, moderate-income units would amount to only 6 or 7 percent of the new units built each year, the task force said.

Units for low-income persons, those making $20,000 or less, should amount to 4 or 5 percent of the 2,500 units allowed each year under the county's 1990 general plan, the task force said.

The group that would benefit most from the task force proposals would be those earning $36,000 to $60,000 a year, defined by the task force as "middle-income."

Council members praised the task force for its "hard work" and said they would study the proposals further before commenting on them.

Other findings of the task force:

* By making the zoning changes it recommends and by speeding up the planning and zoning approval process, the annual housing stock for middle-income families could grow to 40 to 48 percent of the allowable market.

* The housing stock for upper-income families -- those with incomes above $60,000 -- should amount to 40 to 50 percent of new construction each year.

* The county should establish a housing trust fund that would supplement state and federal programs, assist people with annual incomes of $20,000 or less, and "meet the special needs of the elderly, disabled, homeless or other special populations." A portion of the trust fund should be set aside to assist persons "in temporarily dire straits" who have suffered injury, illness, or the break-up of a marriage.

* The county should use revenue bonds to purchase rental properties.

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