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Affordable-housing bills pass


Two housing bills designed to increase the amount of affordable housing in Howard County won County Council approval Monday night.

One measure allows 100 more moderate-income units a year to be built under the county's complex housing allocation system that limits development to about 1,750 units a year.

The other, more complex bill gives developers more flexibility in providing moderate-income units required by law in some zones.

That bill was amended, however, to eliminate any mention of a new, higher "middle-income" category of subsidized housing and to eliminate a minimum income level for eligibility. Another change removed a cash option for developers who want to pay the county instead of building the required units.

"You can't buy your way out of it," the county's deputy planning director, Steve Lafferty, said after the meeting.

The bill does allow developers who can show economic hardship to build their moderate-income units separately, away from their primary projects, if they provide extra units. Builders complain that new homes are now so expensive that it's very difficult to build identical homes selling for $250,000 with subsidies among units retailing for more than $700,000 each.

Under the new law, which will take effect in August, three planned projects totaling 291 units of moderate-income rental apartments can be built.

"We're very pleased the council left in the ability to transfer units off-site," Lafferty said.

Housing advocates are hoping a new citizens task force to be appointed this month by County Executive James N. Robey will find new ways of making homes more affordable for working families and civil servants.

"Obviously, with this task force, all of zoning and housing is going to be looked at," said Andre J. DeVerneil, a member of the Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing. "I expect low, moderate and middle incomes will be addressed."

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