$1.2 million to be spent on houses


A public program to renovate 16 rental houses in a historic but impoverished watermen community on the West River is zTC costing taxpayers $1.2 million.

That amounts to $75,000 for each of the small, one- and two-bedroom homes.

The cost raised the eyebrows of several County Council members during a briefing yesterday on a plan that would give the private, nonprofit developer a break on real estate taxes.

The developer purchased the property with public money.

The numbers left him "cross-eyed," said County Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican.

"It's definitely not cheap," said Mr. Klocko, whose district includes Galesville. "The cost is definitely something I would look at more closely."

Kathleen Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services Inc. (ACDS), warned council members, "If you try to make economic sense of it, you won't."

The goal is to provide affordable rents and decent houses to long-time residents of Galesville, said Ms. Koch, whose agency was spun off from the county government two years ago.

None of the 16 units -- including three that were included as part of a 1986 inventory of historic sites by the Maryland Historical Trust -- have indoor plumbing. Three units are frame; the others are cinder block construction.

Renovations will include installing bathrooms and expanding existing kitchens. Outhouses will be removed.

"There isn't a for-profit developer who in his right mind would be willing to go in and do this and keep these units affordable," Ms. Koch said.

After the meeting, Ms. Koch contrasted the cost with other affordable housing projects in Annapolis.

She estimated the per unit cost of acquisition and renovation of 198 apartments at Bay Ridge Gardens at $66,000 to $70,000.

And, she said, renovations at 159 homes at Admiral Oaks, formerly known as Boston Heights, cost $76,000 each.

William Gibbons, construction manager for ACDS, said renovating the homes will cost $10,000 less per house than constructing new ones.

ACDS is spending $800,000 in federal money and $400,000 in state aid on the 16 units.

The renovations are part of a larger effort to preserve a historic African-American community along West Benning Road that dates to the mid-1800s.

Most of the residents of the small cluster of homes worked as shuckers at the Woodfield Oyster Co.'s now-defunct packing plant or are their descendants.

The houses originally were provided for the shuckers by the company.

More recently, the residents paid the Woodfield family $25 a week whenever they had enough money, Ms. Koch said.

Without ACDS's intervention, the houses could be condemned and "this community would basically disappear," Ms. Koch said.

ACDS performs many of the functions formerly handled by the community development division of county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement.

Robert R. Neall, then county executive, set up ACDS to take over that division's responsibilities as part of his effort to shrink government.

One advantage to privatization was that ACDS could purchase the two-acre property and undertake the renovations, said Ms. Koch, who formerly was head of the community development division.

The county never wanted to purchase and own rental properties, she said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad