New alliance is dedicated to more affordable housing


Low- and moderate-income Howard County residents seeking more affordable housing now have a new financial assistance service offering counseling and arranging loans to help them purchase their own homes.

The Affordable Housing Alliance Inc., a nonprofit Columbia-based organization, will hold its official grand opening Thursday. The organization, which incorporated a year ago, works with public and private agencies throughout the country to offer more affordable housing.

"We think it is important for people to own their own homes," said alliance Chairman William Ross Sr., a resident of Columbia's Wilde Lake village and founder of the all-volunteer group, which opened in March. "They're more concerned about taxes and the schools. They don't want to destroy what they've put money into."

Mr. Ross, a former employee of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Urban League, said he has fought for years to increase housing opportunities for the "economically disadvantaged." He said he sees the mid-Atlantic region, and particularly the Columbia area, where he has lived since 1968, as an important place for his alliance to begin its programs.

Howard County has some of the highest housing costs in the nation; the average single-family home costs about $188,000.

Advocates for the poor regularly complain of high housing costs and the need for more affordable homes. The county has a three-year waiting list for federally subsidized housing.

Meanwhile, some wealthier residents, including some residents of the Kendall Ridge section of Long Reach village in east Columbia, have expressed concern to county government officials that too much low-income housing would drive their property values down.

The housing alliance offers homeownership workshops, confidential and individualized counseling, and development services.

A seven-member board of directors oversees the organization's national operations, and a 20-member board is being established to oversee the company's programs in Maryland.

Financing for the alliance's work comes from public grants and private contributions.

About 30 people are enrolled in the alliance's counseling program -- offered as a joint venture with Ryland Homes -- and about 50 others have registered for future sessions, Mr. Ross said.

In addition to the counseling program, the alliance is acquiring single-family and multifamily units in Maryland, Delaware, Louisiana and Texas that will be sold to clients.

Leonard Vaughan, director of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development, said the new organization is a welcome addition to this community. He said he believes the alliance will provide services no other county organization offers.

"A lot of his services are going to be unique," Mr. Vaughan said. "It really isn't an overlap. It's an extension of services in the county.

For information about the alliance's programs and information on how to become a volunteer counselor who can help clients with financial planning, call William Ross at 995-5815.

The alliance's official grand opening be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at One Commerce Center, Suite 109, and is open to the public.

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