Neighbors concerned with homeless housing project

North Laurel residents had an opportunity to learn more about a planned apartment complex for the chronically homeless Thursday, but not everyone is sold on the project.

North Laurel residents had an opportunity to learn more about a planned apartment complex for the chronically homeless last week, and not everyone is completely sold on the project.


"I don't want to make this the hub of the homeless," North Laurel resident Richard Freas said.

Freas was one of about 20 area residents to attend a community meeting hosted by the Howard County Housing Commission at the North Laurel Community Center.


The housing commission in September purchased the 5.5-acre Beechcrest Mobile Home Park with the intentions of building a 33- to 50-unit apartment complex for the chronically homeless in Howard County.

The lot, behind the Econo Lodge on Route 1, sits between the Country Meadows apartment complex to the east and single family homes to the west.

Freas, who lives less than a half-mile from the site on Glen Ridge Drive, said during the meeting he was concerned the facility might attract homeless people from Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

"I don't oppose the concept, but down here we've been hit with the Route 1 stigma," he said. "A homeless shelter probably isn't as beneficial to improving the atmosphere along Route 1 as other options could be."

Some neighbors said they were concerned about the value of their homes decreasing, and also having the homeless wander through backyards if they can't get into the building before it is locked at 9 p.m. Others questioned whether the individuals living in the apartments would be given a background check.

But the question that came up multiple times at the Nov. 29 meeting was: "Would this be worse than what is there now?"

The Beechcrest mobile home park is composed of 38 units. Some are unused, with plywood covering doors and windows. Area residents at the meeting admitted there is crime and trespassing issues with the Beechcrest community.

Beechcrest residents have been informed by the housing commission that the park will close Nov. 15, 2013. They will receive relocation assistance, according to Tom Carbo, executive director of the housing commission, which could include help with moving expenses, rental assistance or funding assistance for purchasing a new home.


No one at the meeting identified themselves as a Beechcrest resident during a question and answer session.

Volunteers of America, a national faith-based nonprofit, has been hired to manage the proposed complex, which will be two or three stories high and have as much as 21,000 square feet.

The efficiency style one-room apartments will house one person each and will include space for a fold out couch and a desk that will serve as a dresser. The apartments also will also have a small kitchenette and bathroom.

A Howard County Transit bus stop might also be added on Route 1 near the apartment complex.

The Chesapeake affiliate of Volunteers of America, operating throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, owns four similar complexes and manages 11 more, according to president and CEO Russ Snyder.

Snyder said the North Laurel complex will be monitored 24 hours a day by a staff of 9 to 12 employees.


Funding for the project will come primarily through grants from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, said Carbo, who added that county dollars will not be used for construction. Applying for those grants can't start until September 2013.

The amount of grant money will dictate the building's size and number of apartments. Once funding is secured, construction is expected to take 10 to 12 months. The facility tentatively is set to open in 2015.

The Housing Commission purchased the property, located north of Whiskey Bottom Road off Route 1, for $1.6 million from a developer. The location was chosen because of the homeless population along the Route 1 corridor, according to Carbo.

The county's annual Point in Time survey, taken in January 2012, found 230 homeless people living in Howard County, according Lois Mikkila, director of the Department of Citizen Services.

Early designs of the building have a day Resource Center occupying the first floor with residences on upper floors.

The resource center will be available for residents and the county's homeless population during the day for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job placement and financial and health care benefit programs, Snyder said.


"This gives them an opportunity to get better," he said.

Snyder said residents — with the help of case workers at the facility — will be required to become employed and pay 30 percent of their income as rent to have an apartment.

"It's all about helping a homeless man or woman become independent again," he said.