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Seeking affordable housing


Making an issue of housing Advocates for affordable housing have raised a call to arms.

Seeking to galvanize momentum on the issue in an election season, religious and civic leaders from across Anne Arundel County called on local candidates last week to support making housing more reasonably priced to more citizens.

Organizers of the first Anne Arundel Housing Summit put the topic of affordable housing into religious terms Thursday night in Annapolis.

With one pastor noting that "All of God's children are valuable," advocates for affordable housing in the county challenged political candidates at St. Philip's Episcopal Church to become active in what they consider to be a matter of social justice.

Bishop H. Gerard Knoche of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for the county to meet "the needs of the entire work force, from nurses aides to police officers and everything in between."

At the event organized by the Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality, six county executive candidates and more than 10 others running for County Council received a clear message: Turn your back on affordable housing initiatives at your political peril.

"People want to know that if you work hard, you can afford moderately priced housing," said Joshua J. Cohen, an Annapolis alderman and a Democrat running for County Council.

With the average price of housing in Anne Arundel County having climbed above $400,000, advocates say that politicians can no longer delay action on helping the less fortunate.

"The time is now," the Rev. Diane Dixon-Proctor, pastor of the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Glen Burnie, repeated several times to the crowd of about 200.

Dixon-Proctor criticized County Council members Ronald C. Dillon Jr. and C. Edward Middlebrooks, both Republicans, for not filling out the event questionnaire and for not attending the event. They voted against a bill in 2004 that asked developers to voluntarily set aside a portion of new development for "work force" housing.

"What does that tell you?" Proctor asked the audience.

Candidates by and large said the matter of giving citizens greater opportunities to live in the county will not be easy to achieve, given that residential development is closed in many areas of the county because of overcrowded schools.

Acknowledging the challenges, the candidates said the complex task of offering the less fortunate a helping hand should not be ignored. They agreed they must work with developers on coming up with a greater array of cheaper housing options. Some said they should push to revitalize older communities such as Glen Burnie and Brooklyn Park.

Gregory V. Nourse, a Republican candidate for county executive, noted that communities across the country offer affordable housing options differently: Arlington, Va., subsidizes rental property; Palm Springs County, Fla., holds a housing lottery, where homes are sold at below-market value; and Sonoma, Calif., offers greater zoning densities than are normally permitted.

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, said that the real ability to create affordable housing programs rests with the county executive, noting that the 2004 "work force" housing bill failed in large part because it did not have the backing of County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat now running for state comptroller.

Owens last year announced plans to commit $50 million in bonds to buy homes and then lease them to county employees with family incomes between $60,000 and $80,000. She said Friday that the independent Housing Commission is about to launch that effort.

That's on top of two initiatives she announced last week to provide some county employees with at least $10,000 for closing costs and a down payment on a first home.

Middlebrooks said he is supportive of Owens' efforts to help with closing costs and down payments on housing, but he said that typical first-time homebuyers "should not be entitled to a brand-new house in a brand-new community."

Dillon said he is not "indifferent" to the issue of affordable housing. But he said: "It would be unfair to preach about affordable housing when these other issues I'm passionate about conflict" with them. He said he's supportive of reducing road congestion and protecting the environment along Marley Neck Peninsula.

At the event, Del. David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Republican and a candidate for executive, told audience members "Forget what party you are in. You are in one family. ... If we don't take care of our own, we lose. We're not going to let you down."

Devin Tucker, a Democratic council candidate in District 4, said he supports a 25 percent inclusionary housing commitment in new development.

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