Fair kicks off housing program

The Baltimore Sun

People with limited incomes who want to buy or rent a home in Howard County will have another chance Saturday at a county-sponsored housing fair at Long Reach High School.

Two Elkridge houses, one apartment condominium in Columbia, and one rental townhouse in North Laurel - all newly renovated - are to be awarded to qualified buyers at the event, which kicks off preparations for a new round of home purchases in May under the county's Moderate Income Housing Unit program. The county is trying to build a list of pre-qualified buyers it can use whenever new MIHU homes become available.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and gives people an opportunity to gather information on how to qualify and participate, or on other chances to buy homes in the county. If they have full documentation, people interested in the four units available at the fair can qualify at the event.

"We want people to understand what opportunities they have and what help they have," said Stacy L. Spann, Howard's housing director.

"Even though there is some turmoil in the [housing] marketplace, it's still important for people to know what their options are. There are some very good buys," Spann said.

The fair will include realtors, mortgage companies, banks and builders, as well as county housing officials, all ready to answer questions about the program. County law requires builders to supply up to 15 percent of homes in most zones for moderate-income people. Maximum incomes for purchasers range from $52,786 for one person to $99,539 for a family of eight or more. For renters, the top income allowed is $39,589 for one person to $74,654 for a family of eight or more.

The units offered for sale or rent Saturday are not MIHU's, however. These are units owned by the county Housing Commission, which is recycling them from previous owners. Buyers would own a percentage of each of the sale units, and the commission would own the rest, which is how the commission keeps the prices low.

All have been renovated with updated kitchens, bathrooms, lighting and flooring in some cases, Spann said.

One, a detached three-bedroom home with a one-car garage, is in New Colony Village off U.S. 1 north of Route 175. The listed price is $176,480, and the buyer will own 60 percent of the home. A townhouse on Bayberry Court near the Elkridge Library is in the Orchard Club condominium community of 74 homes. It also has three bedrooms, 2.5 baths and would sell for $199,000, which gives the buyer 83 percent ownership. A two-bedroom condominium apartment at Treover, on Tamar Drive just south of Route 175, is priced at $156,000, representing an 87 percent ownership share, and a three-bedroom townhouse on Squires Court in North Laurel will rent for $850 a month.

Spann said his department is working to raise awareness on the county's housing programs in anticipation of nearly 1,000 units due to be completed in 12 to 18 months. At the same time, several large multiuse buildings featuring apartments with below-market rents as well as MIHU units are also starting to reach completion along the U.S. 1 corridor in North Laurel.

Last month the county had 17 townhouses and apartment condominiums available but only nine qualified buyers, leading the county to redouble marketing efforts. Spann said some people had credit problems or other disqualifying issues.

County Council members said the lack of qualified buyers doesn't mean affordable housing is not badly needed.

"I don't think the housing crisis is overblown," said County Council member Jen Terrasa, a King's Contrivance Democrat. "There's definitely people out there [who need help]."

The number of qualified buyers may be limited because the MIHU program covers only a limited sampling of people who need affordable housing.

County Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat who also represents a portion of the U.S. 1 corridor, said the lack of qualified buyers has not discouraged him on the county's housing efforts.

Ball said, "We need to let the program work for a few years before we can really evaluate its success."

More detailed information is available on the county's Web site (www.co.ho.md.us).


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