Report: Housing advocate needed


Anne Arundel County should step up efforts to ensure that moderate-income workers can find affordable housing in the county, a task force recommended yesterday.

A report released by the task force recommends that the county create a full-time advocate for more affordable housing, designate areas as possible sites for high-density development and consider offering financial incentives to developers who build more affordable residences.

The task force consisted of elected officials, builders, real estate professionals and housing activists.

"We are way behind the times in Anne Arundel County," said Brenda Desjardins, the Annapolis real estate consultant who chaired the task force.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said she would review the report carefully to "figure out what we can do with existing resources."

Owens said she is particularly interested in making older communities such as Glen Burnie, Brooklyn Park, Harundale and Maryland City more appealing. She suggested that the county work with developers to revamp a home in each area to serve as a model.

"The problem is that people may not want to live where there's housing," the county executive said, referring to existing affordable homes.

Owens appointed the task force in response to widespread concerns about the rocketing costs of Anne Arundel housing. Housing activists say the county's average assessed housing value, about $280,000, is beyond the means of many Anne Arundel workers.

The task force concluded that government generally helps poorer families but does little to make sure housing is affordable for average families. It examined ways to increase housing options for families with incomes between $53,840 and $80,760. Members took great pains during yesterday's presentation to distinguish work-force housing from low-income housing.

The report says that before county officials proceed, they must decide what constitutes affordable housing for Anne Arundel's work force. It says Owens should then assign a staff member to the issue.

"Unless there is an advocate, unless there is someone in charge ... we think this issue will fall by the wayside," Desjardins said.

The report recommends that the county seek companies interested in entering public-private partnerships to create affordable housing.

"In examining successful models throughout the nation, in many instances it has been the business community that has spearheaded these programs," the report says.

Desjardins suggested asking major employers in the county, "OK, how do we help the people who work for you afford to live in Anne Arundel County?"

The report says the county should then move toward designating neighborhoods where homes could be built or renovated, setting up financing mechanisms for affordable housing and creating a marketing campaign for its programs.

"This task force would like to see incentives for residential rehabilitation similar to those offered for commercial revitalization," the task force recommended.

Owens said the county might sell surplus land to developers, who in turn could build moderate-priced homes.

The report also recommends that each area of the county include sectors designated for more affordable housing.

It says that affordable housing programs often meet opposition from established residents who don't want to live near high-density development. The report recommends that the county preempt such resistance by educating residents on the merits of affordable housing.

The report describes several programs from other counties and states that might serve as models for Anne Arundel.

For example, when Howard County increases the number of homes that can be built on a tract, it often requires that a percentage of those homes be affordable to moderate-income families. The report says Anne Arundel could easily implement such requirements.

The report also points to a nonprofit Montgomery County commission that develops mixed-income projects, offers low-interest loans to buyers and purchases units that it then rents to moderate-income families. The report suggests that the existing Arundel Community Development Services could be expanded to offer similar services, though Desjardins said she would not recommend the county develop properties directly.

The task force also recommended that county officials comb through the many variations of such programs to find examples that would best fit Anne Arundel.

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