Does Harford County need more affordable housing for low-income residents?
And if so, how much and where?
The Enterprise Foundation -- a non-profit organization created by Harborplace and Columbia developer James W. Rouse to build affordable housing -- hopes to answer those questions.
The foundation said Thursday it has agreed to conduct a survey of the county's low-income housing and develop a long-range plan to create new affordable housing in Harford.
Enterprise was asked to do the study by the Ecumenical Community of Harford County Inc., which operates a transitional shelter for homeless women and children in Street. ECHCO is a non-profit organization that includes county religious leaders, Associated Catholic Charities and local businesses.
"The county has almost no existing available low-income affordable housing," said the Rev. Francis X. Callahan, pastor of St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Bel Air and past president of ECHCO.
Callahan said it is not clear how much affordable housing exists in the county because no study has ever been done on it.
The Rev. Charles W. Lightner, ECHCO's president and pastor of Bel Air United Methodist Church, says the county's need for adequate housing will grow at an increasingly rapid rate as it tries to attract new businesses and industry.
"The problem is not yet insurmountable, but it should be dealt with quickly before it becomes overwhelming," says Lightner.
A resolution supporting the foundation survey will be up for a County Council vote Tuesday night, Callahan said.
Enterprise officials sought the resolution because they want the council's support of the survey and its recommendations. Enterprise would begin the study soon, if the resolution is passed, he said.
County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said she supports the study, because the county needs to take a look at a range of affordable housing alternatives, from the needs of homeless families to the needs of senior citizens.
"Harford County has tremendous diversity. We have an urban area and a rural area and need different strategies for affordable housing for both," she said.
She said she and the council would discuss the survey findings and its recommendations and then develop priorities.
Callahan said there may be many ways to create additional low-income housing. For example, he said, existing housing along parts of the U.S. 40 corridor and in rural areas could be renovated or new homes built. Also, developers could be required to set aside a percentage of all new housing developments for low-income buyers or tenants.
Enterprise is a non-profit group which has made a national reputation for itself by working with neighborhood groups and local organizations to advance affordable housing programs for low-income people.
The study, which should be completed in about six months, will cost about $9,000. ECHCO is contributing $3,000, the Harford County Home Builders Association is contributing $4,000, and $2,000 is coming from the special projects portion of the county budget.
Housing in Harford has become expensive in the past decade, ECHCO members said, and that has affected low-income wage earners seeking good homes.
According to 1990 census profiles, the mean, or mid-range, price of a home in Harford County increased by 93.8 percent between VTC 1980 to 1990. It went up from $65,161 to $126,315.
And the mean monthly rent increased by 103.6 percent in the same 10 years, from $198 to $403.