Want to see a socially conservative resident of Baltimore County jump 10 feet in the air? Just sidle up and whisper two little words:
True, "tax increase" will do the trick just as well. But low-cost housing still presses a raw nerve among county conservatives because of its appearance in a bond question on the local Nov. 3 ballot.
The $600,000 ordinance, listed as Question F, would help pay for the construction of homes for people with low and moderate incomes. If approved, the county funds would be sweetened with nearly $2 million from the federal government.
Of the 10 bond issues on the 1990 county ballot, the only one rejected by voters was a $2.6 million ordinance that included funds for affordable housing. No shocker there. The cold fact is, a lot of county residents believe that affordable housing means cheap, ugly projects for blacks and other minorities. This fear resonates at least as far back as the mid-1960s, when then-County Executive Spiro T. Agnew was rapped for advocating urban renewal, a concept many residents associated with housing for the poor.
The historical background of Question F is not lost on the organizations urging its approval, which range from Associated Catholic Charities to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors to the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. They assert that the approved funds would be used primarily to house responsible community members -- teachers, secretaries, police officers, firefighters, retirees -- who can't afford the average cost of a county home. To qualify for the housing, a family of two could earn no more than $28,200, a family of four no more than $35,300.
Baltimore County's average home costs $130,000, an amount only a third of county households could finance. Indeed, the lofty costs of local housing, Question F backers argue, have driven moderate-income people to less expensive developments in neighboring jurisdictions. So Baltimore County winds up with a decreased tax base and a negative reputation among companies looking to locate where their workers can buy decent homes.
The county must do all it can to combat these conditions, particularly as it's forced by the recession to scrape for every possible revenue source. Approval of Question F would help toward that end. The sort of housing to be created by this bond issue would make life better for hundreds of hard-working, taxpaying county residents. We urge Baltimore County citizens to vote FOR Question F on Nov. 3.