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Low-cost houses planned

The Baltimore Sun

The elusive goal of owning a detached, single-family home in Howard County may soon be within reach for a few limited-income buyers as county officials develop plans for 10 affordable new homes in Savage, and perhaps more later.

Unlike other government housing programs that depend on private builders' projects, these homes would be developed by the county's Housing Commission on land purchased six years ago. The nearly 4-acre plot is on Marys Lane, off Guilford Road. The commission owns about 20 acres elsewhere in the same neighborhood that could be developed later, said Stacy L. Spann, the housing director.

"We've not done this before," Spann said about developing detached homes. The first homes at the Glens at Guilford project could get under way next spring, he said.

Spann said the homes would include design features such as wider doorways, bathroom grab bars and lever door handles, intended to keep the homes habitable as people age. That means the homes would incorporate three public goals - affordability, "green" design and energy efficiency, and universal design, he said.

One of the homes will be used to display the new designs to the public. A public forum on the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Ellicott City Senior Center, 9401 Frederick Road.

"They're really going about this in a whole different way, to the Housing Department's credit," said Joshua Feldmark, Howard's chief environmental official.

The homes would have more insulation, top-grade insulated windows and energy-efficient appliances to keep heating and cooling costs lower, and features such as low-chemical paint and floor coverings, Feldmark said.

During construction, vents and open spaces will be sealed off to prevent dust inside the buildings, he said.

"Poor indoor air quality is a leading cause of asthma," he said.

Spann said that because federal block grant funds are being used for the project, the homes will be offered to people at 80 percent of the Baltimore-area median income, which is $65,500 for a family of four, rather than the higher Howard County standard - $80,000 - used for other county housing programs.

That will make affordability an even more challenging aspect of the project because detached homes are usually larger and more expensive to build than townhouses. But the goal is laudable, said Robert M. Buchmeier, an advocate of lower-cost housing in the county.

"There are people who need affordable housing who need a larger house space," he said.

Michael G. Riemer, a commission member, said he approves of having a range of housing for sale and rent, as long as the commission can buy the homes back when they eventually are ready for resale.

Spann said no design or price details are available, but the challenge will be to provide as much space as possible while keeping costs low enough for buyers to afford.

One factor that will help is lower land costs because the commission bought the tract years ago.

At that time, county housing officials talked about selling the homes for about $150,000 each, but construction has been delayed by the county's complex growth-control laws. Now, with average sale prices for detached homes still more than $400,000 and even moderate-income townhouses selling for $200,000, affordability will be hard to achieve.

"It'll be challenging, sure," Spann said. "We know this product makes sense, and we're committed to making the price work."

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