Edgewood residents who say their communities have enough low-income housing are angrily opposing a proposal to increase federal subsidies on 240 apartments in the Meadowood complex.
The proposal, under consideration by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, seeks to convert the units, already qualified for a "shallow subsidy" Section 236 program, into more heavily subsidized Section 8 housing.
The change would effectively make rents in those apartments more affordable by guaranteeing that a percentage of the tenant's rent would be paid by HUD.
"We have enough Section 8 housing in Edgewood," says Ree Weathers, a resident of Harford Square and former manager of Edgewater Village apartments, a Section 8 project of 218 units.
"If Harford County needs more, fine, but let's let somebody else have it."
Meadowood requested the change because of a vacancy rate of about 22 percent, said Carl Ruff, vice president for Jessup-based National Housing Partnership, which manages the 574-unit complex in Edgewood. He said that increasing subsidies on existing units would reduce the vacancy rate and help current residents who are struggling to meet monthly rent ++ payments.
But Edgewood residents say it will only increase the level of poverty in that part of the county by attracting more low-income residents. They fear poverty will bring more crime and drugs to an area already suffering from a poor public image.
"Our community is already exhausted with the characteristics of Section 8 housing," said Van Taylor, an Edgewood activist and president of Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood. NICE, an umbrella group representing several Edgewood business groups, churches, tenant associations and schools, was formed last year to combat drugs, alcohol and crime in the community.
"NICE supports low-income housing, as well as soup kitchens and other kinds of support. And we have people in our group who are living in Section 8 housing. But it's gotten to be too much. We are overwhelmed by it," she said.
"Our area is flooded with problems, and we're trying to handle as much as we can, and we're burned out."
Edgewood has more than 900 units that are subsidized by federal, state or local programs, said Barbara Haugh, deputy director of the Harford County Housing Agency. That is about 32 percent of the total 2,850 subsidies available in Harford County, which includes assisted housing for the elderly and disabled.
"We feel 20 percent would be an ideal proportion of assisted housing in any given area to avoid concentration," Mrs. Haugh said. She said that the county prefers to have subsidized housing scattered, but that most units are in large projects.
County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has urged HUD officials to reject the Meadowood application. In a letter to HUD officials, she called the Section 8 application "inconsistent with the Harford County Housing Assistance Plan," which was developed the early 1980s.
"Harford County encourages a balanced distribution of assisted housing through the county where need for housing is evident and public services are available," she wrote, urging HUD to hold a public meeting for Edgewood residents.
Under federal law, HUD is required to solicit comments from the executive, but is not required to act on them or to hold a public hearing. Nor is HUD required to offer county residents first choice of available subsidized housing, which concerns Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, whose District A includes Edgewood.
"I don't want outsiders being brought in for the sole purpose of deep subsidies," she said. "We're not meeting all the needs of the citizens we have now -- we don't have a senior center, we are limited on medical services and transportation -- and this would put even more of a strain on the community."
Virginia Weisman, a district manager for National Housing Partnership, said an evaluation of the incomes of current Meadowood residents suggested a need for heavier subsidies there.
"We want to stress that the existing residents that qualify for Section 8 will get first preference on housing" under the new plan, she said, noting that she is aware of about 84 such families. The remainder of the conversions will be open to new applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.
Mrs. Heselton said her constituents fear that more residents with very low incomes will increase drug traffic and crime along an already deteriorating Route 40.
"The Route 40 corridor has been singled out [for subsidized housing] because it is part of the development envelope and because it's an easy place to pick on. Housing there is older and closer together," she said, adding that there are few apartment complexes elsewhere in the county.
"If you said you were going to build low-income apartments in Bel Air, you would have mob rule. But the other communities have to share and share alike. I don't think Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Edgewood can continue to bear responsibility of all the low-income housing."
Ms. Haugh says there are about 200 subsidized units in Havre de Grace and more than 600 in Aberdeen. The two communities plus Edgewood have about 60 percent of all subsidized housing in the county.