Residents criticize affordable housing project


A crowd of Long Reach village residents objected last night to a proposed affordable housing development, expressing concern that the project would adversely affect property values and create a segregated island of low-income housing.

"These are not comparable in size or price," Jennifer Ross, a resident of a townhouse community near the proposed 5-acre site, told the project's developers. "What will that do to us? How is that going to affect my home when I go to sell?"

Many of the 125 residents at the village board meeting also claimed that Long Reach already has a fair share of affordable housing, and questioned why the Rouse Co. and the Enterprise Foundation -- which are working together on the proposed 64-townhouse project -- hadn't set their sights on other Columbia villages with comparatively little or no low-income housing.

Several residents urged the Enterprise Foundation to drop plans for Streamwood, which includes 36 townhouses for sale to buyers with incomes of $25,000 to $40,000 and 28 rental units for tenants with incomes of $18,000 and $25,000. The houses would carry $85,000 mortgages or rent for $450 a month.

The proposed project is part of a larger plan to build 740 units -- including 540 townhouses, condominiums and apartments -- on 147 acres east of Snowden River Parkway and north of Route 175 in the Kendall Ridge section of Long Reach.

Enterprise Foundation officials said they would consider residents' concerns, but emphasized that the nonprofit agency's mission is to produce affordable housing and that the townhouses would be comparable to many other Columbia developments.

The townhouses would not be cheaply built but would be more affordable because of financing arrangements with the state, Howard County and the Rouse Co., which owns the land, Enterprise Foundation officials said. The townhouses would be aimed at teachers, police officers, nurses, service industry employees and other workers who can't afford to buy homes here, said Chickie Grayson, project coordinator for the Enterprise Foundation.

"We're excited about this," Ms. Grayson said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for affordable homeownership and rental housing in Columbia. I hope you share in our excitement."

But the Long Reach residents criticized the developers' apparent determination to pursue the project despite vocal opposition.

Responding to an Enterprise Foundation official's pledge that the affordable townhouses would be "first-rate," Long Reach resident Stephen Murray said he didn't move to Columbia for affordable housing but because of its quality of life.

"I paid top dollar," Mr. Murray said. "Why can't they? You work your way up into it."

Several residents said the affordable units should be interspersed throughout the community, rather than centralized.

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