THE passage of bond issue Question F next Tuesday will help Baltimore County begin to reverse the fortunes of thousands of residents whose incomes prevent them from buying or renting decent, affordable housing.
By voting FOR Question F, voters will authorize the county government to borrow $600,000 to support construction of housing for people with incomes less than 80 percent of the annual county median of $44,100 and the construction of accompanying improvements such as roads and sidewalks.
The bond money would be used as "gap financing" to help nonprofit and for-profit developers build homes and rental units that are more affordable for county residents. The money also would be used to match funds in a federal housing program.
Who would benefit? The housing that would result would be affordable to a single person earning $24,700 or less or a family of four earning less than $35,300. While the very poorest citizens would benefit, so would a starting police officer who makes $26,108, a starting firefighter who earns $23,928 or a beginning teacher whose salary is $24,528.
These aren't people living in poverty. They're residents who have found that housing costs outstrip their incomes. Most are working. Others may have been forced to change jobs because of layoffs, they might have inadequate child care so that both parents can't work, or they might simply have become part of the "new poor." The bond money also would be targeted at the elderly, who comprise 19 percent of Baltimore County's population, many living on limited or fixed incomes.
The housing situation in Baltimore County is so grave that there is significant migration to Carroll County, Harford County and York County, Pa. This narrows the county tax base and increases the tax burden for those who remain. Since 1989, the median price for a new home has risen from $132,000 to more than $150,000. To afford a $138,000 home, a person needs to earn $54,000, but only 32 percent of county households have incomes greater than $50,000. Baltimore County simply does not have an adequate supply of affordable housing for current and future residents.
If we don't provide more affordable housing now and during the next decade, we'll be faced with other social and economic costs that will have to be absorbed by taxpayers. Decent, affordable housing is a human right. By having a decent place to live, people can address other issues of education, health and employment. They can gain greater self-respect and dignity and have a more stable beginning point for their future. Baltimore County residents should vote FOR Question F.
Stephen Lafferty is president of Baltimore County's Community Assistance Network.