Last week's issue: At a recent discussion about affordable-housing strategies in the red-hot Howard County home market, one developer said that buyers of expensive homes "are very nervous about moderate-income buyers in their community." The county's current guidelines define "moderate income" as a family of four with an income of up to $57,720 -- and officials are considering boosting that to $74,350.
In a county where the median family income is nearly $90,000 a year, how does economic diversity -- or the lack of it -- affect the character of the community?
Let's avoid becoming Montgomery Jr.
For me, economic diversity is essential to having a great community in Howard County. Right now, the housing market has so dramatically increased the cost of buying a home that many people who want to live and work in our county simply cannot afford it. I'm not talking about high school dropouts, I'm talking about teachers, firemen, police officers, and thousands upon thousands of other people who are educated, have good jobs, work hard, but can't afford the outrageous cost of buying a home and paying their property taxes.
Teachers who worked at my high school should be able to afford to live in my school district. Police officers who patrol my neighborhood should be able to live in a house down the street from mine. Sadly, this isn't realistic for many in our county.
What truly concerns me is the image that we as residents project of the county. Let's look at Montgomery County. As soon as I mention Montgomery County, I'll bet most of you know where I'm going, which is that it has an indefatigable stigma surrounding it created by its enormous wealth. I think that Howard County has been able to avoid having such an image, but unless we do something soon, like raising the income level at which families will qualify as moderate income, Howard will become Montgomery Jr.
I definitely support raising the cap on incomes considered to be moderate to $74,350, and support mandating that developers who pillage our countryside to make a quick buck (or tens of millions of them, I should say) construct a certain amount of moderate-income housing in addition to their multitude of palatial mansions and villas.
Byron E. Macfarlane
Inclusionary zoning the right thing to do
Unfortunately, it's easier to quantify and appreciate absurdly high home values than it is to measure the value of raising one's children in an economically diverse community. The impact of the county's affordable-housing crisis on low- and moderate-income families who cannot afford to purchase homes here is clear. What is less clear, but also sad, is the negative impact on the kids who are raised in affluent, insulated communities. Inclusionary zoning is necessary because it is the right thing to do, and also because it benefits all of us.
Breeding prejudices and reinforcing them
Though there are several facets of this issue worthy of longer discussions, I wish only to highlight one. How does a lack of economic diversity affect the character of a community? By breeding and reinforcing prejudices -- for instance, nervousness over living with "moderate-income" families. Apparently, some people are qualified enough to teach our children and protect our lives but not enough to be our neighbors.
Sarcasm aside, who would you rather live next to -- the family struggling to get in or the one trying to keep others out?
It's people who count, not their income
Economic diversity affects the character of any community in positive and negative ways, as we see in the media every day in every community in the world. How a specific area reacts (or doesn't react) to any economic diversity that may be evident in their community is what matters.
Our ability in Howard County to recognize the things that make us strong -- the exceptional public school system, the government officials working for us, the multitude of neighborhood gathering and religious facilities, the community events that pull us together to make us a community -- and ensure that these same things are available to everyone, and known by everyone, regardless of economic diversity will positively affect the character of the community.
I don't care what the income level is of my friends. I have friends from every stage of my life, and I like them for who they are, not for how much money they make. The same can be said of the people I interact with in my Howard County neighborhood. We meet, we socialize, our kids meet and socialize, and it has made our family stronger because we have built ourselves a strong community.
We want your opinions
THE ISSUE: The Howard County Fair celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, still clinging to reminders of the county's rural heritage. Visitors could watch such traditional events as the horse, mule and tractor pull, the cow-milking competition -- even the "Farm Queen" (Miss Howard County Farm Bureau) contest, complete with tiara.
But in an era of online video games and instant messaging, how long can such quaint amusements draw the young people who make up an ever-increasing part of the county's suburban population? Is the Howard County Fair too old-fashioned for the 21st century?
YOUR VIEW: Send e-mail responses by Thursday to firstname.lastname@example.org. A selection of responses will be published Sunday. Please keep your responses short and include your name, address and telephone number. Addresses and phone numbers will not be published.