Despite an outcry from neighboring communities and objections from the Harford County executive, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved converting 209 rental townhouses in Edgewood from light subsidies to heavily subsidized Section 8 housing.
The conversion at the Meadowood Townhouses off Hanson Road near Route 24 will bring the number of Section 8 homes in Edgewood to more than 700, according to the Harford County Housing Agency.
It will mean a reduction in rent for more than 80 current residents at the complex and will make about 125 vacant townhouses available at reduced rates, said Larry Hatcher, deputy manager of the Baltimore HUD office.
Mr. Hatcher said the approval was granted because of Meadowood's 22 percent vacancy rate and "potentially serious financial difficulties" at the 574-unit complex. The Section 8 program, he said, is intended to assist financially troubled FHA-insured properties by encouraging a high occupancy rate.
Carl Ruff, vice president of the Jessup-based National Housing Partnership, which manages Meadowood, said during the application process last spring that the many vacancies resulted from the "poor economy and market conditions." The partnership manages the complex for Meadowood Associates, a limited partnership composed of owners.
The units will be converted from HUD's "shallow subsidy" Section 236 program, which reduces a landlord's mortgage interest rate in exchange for his setting basic rents below the prevailing market rate.
Under the "deep subsidy" Section 8 program, the tenant pays no more than 30 percent of his monthly income for rent and utilities, and HUD pays the rest.
Mr. Hatcher said it has not been determined when the new rates will go into effect. The units have to pass a housing quality standards inspection before a contract can be signed and instituted. He said the inspections have begun.
The conversion will bring the total number of Section 8 homes at Meadowood to 294, Mr. Hatcher said. An additional 155 will remain under HUD's low-subsidy program, and 125 will still be available at market-rate rents.
ZTC Many residents of the surrounding area, including members of Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood (NICE), strongly objected to the increase in subsidies, fearing it would attract more low-income residents to an area they say already bears more than its share of poverty.
Poverty, they said, breeds crime and drug use which already have tainted Edgewood with a bad image among Harford County communities.
More than a third of all subsidized housing in Harford County -- about 1,000 units -- is concentrated in the Edgewood area, said Amey Epstein, director of the Harford County Housing Agency. That's considerably more than the 20 percent maximum the agency would like to see in any area of the county, she said.
County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann had formally urged HUD officials to reject Meadowood's application, calling the request "inconsistent with the Harford County Housing Assistance Plan," which encourages a more "balanced distribution of assisted housing."
Mrs. Rehrmann sent several letters about the county's housing policy to HUD officials and urged them to get community comment on the issue.
Under federal law, HUD is required to solicit comments from the executive but is not required to act on them. Nor is HUD required to offer Harford County residents first choice of available housing in the county. HUD officials did, however, hold an informational meeting in Edgewood last month to explain the Section 8 program.
"Basically, it doesn't matter to HUD what local government or the community feels. HUD will proceed the way it wants to proceed," Mrs. Rehrmann said after the Meadowood conversion was approved.
She said federal officials did not adequately discuss problems raised by the community or the county government.
"My concern is with the whole process because it's not responsive to the community," she said. "All we can do is comment. But HUD doesn't address the comments or do anything about them."
HUD officials said the deeper subsidies will help many current Meadowood tenants who have been struggling financially to stay in their homes, including 84 tenants who have been paying more than 40 percent of their income in rent.
In 1992, the "basic," or shallow-subsidy, rent on a three-bedroom townhouse at Meadowood was $485 while the market rent, for those who did not qualify for any federal assistance, was $556 for the same unit.
Under Section 8, a family could pay even less than the basic rent. Income, family size and other forms of assistance are taken into consideration in qualifying applicants for the program. Those who qualify for the reduction pay up to 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income for rent, and HUD pays the balance.
With the increase in revenue to management, Mr. Hatcher said, Meadowood can put more money into its operating budget. He said the complex has proposed internal and external upgrading, including improvements in landscaping and playground equipment.
Mr. Hatcher said there are more than 140 families and individuals on the waiting list for Section 8 subsidies at Meadowood and that current residents would have priority.
Local housing officials would prefer to see assisted housing scattered throughout the county rather than concentrated in one complex, but Ms. Epstein conceded that "the need is definitely there in the Edgewood area. Our statistics show that."
"My concern in this case was that we had an owner in financial difficulty with a big project that was well-managed and well-kept. If this owner would default, then we'd have a HUD-owned complex and, until it was turned over to new management, a lot of vacant buildings and a lot of misplaced tenants and a place of festering crime.
"I would rather have additional subsidies there than a boarded-up project in financial trouble."
The owners had requested deeper subsidies on 240 units, but HUD approved only 209 because that was the number of current residents who would qualify for the reduction combined with the number of vacant houses in the complex, Mr. Hatcher said.