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Anne Arundel’s essential worker housing access bill undergoes first round of amendments

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An Anne Arundel County bill that would require developers to set aside a portion of units for moderate-income housing was amended Monday night following its first public hearing at The Arundel Center.

One change made to the bill, which is designed to provide affordable housing for people living and working in the county, was slightly raising the number of affordable for-sale units a new larger development must offer.

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While properties of 20 units or more must offer the affordable units, developments with 10 to 19 units will either offer affordable units or pay a fee to the county. Another amendment raised that fee from 1% of the purchase price of each unit to 3%. Both amendments were sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat.

The bill now requires 15% of rental units and 15% of for-sale units to be affordable in developments of 20 units or more and some developments of 10 units or more for people making up to $62,156 for rental units and up to $82,875 for ownership.

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Councilmember Allison Pickard, a Glen Burnie Democrat, cited concerns over the incentives for developers in the bill. While developers will be required to offer 15% of both rental and for-sale units at affordable prices, they would get the benefit of building a property 15% denser than the permitted limit. Pickard said that without significant zoning reform, it would be almost impossible for a developer to do that.

“It needs to be achievable,” Pickard said, after learning that most county properties utilize only around 60-80% of allowable density, because of various restrictions.

Pickard said she’s looking into ways to further amend the bill to make the incentives possible for developers to pursue.

Dozens of people came to testify following a rally across the street ahead of the meeting, attended by stakeholders, nonprofit leaders and city, county and state lawmakers. Most were in favor of the general idea of the bill but suggested amendments and raised concerns about who would qualify.

Many who spoke said they lived locally and were struggling to afford living in the county. They asked that the bill be broadened to better accommodate those who work in the public service sector, such as nurses and librarians.

As the legislation stands now, applicants outside of those who work for the county, Annapolis or the county’s Board of Education must be a resident of the county or Annapolis, or work there, for at least one year before applying.

“Get rid of the preferential treatment for county employees,” said Jen Roman, a nurse from Odenton. “Everyone with an eligible income should have the same rules for applying. ... Most of my co-workers who are nursing assistants have to work at least two jobs because their average salary is $40,000 a year. Are these people not essential workers to you?”

Cierra Carter, of Glen Burnie, an employee with the Anne Arundel County Public Library system, said she works three jobs and reminded council members that librarians are not technically county employees. Another library system employee, Rebecca Tucker, of Odenton, said she pays more than 50% of her monthly income for rent.

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Pickard; Julie Hummer, a Laurel Democrat; and Rodvien agreed to try to expand the range of who qualifies for the program.

“We might need to come back with a broader amendment that captures everyone we’re meaning to capture with this bill,” Pickard said.

Mark Mazer, of Arnold, raised concerns that the income threshold is a flawed metric for deciding who qualifies for the more affordable units.

What happens if “somebody in Edgewater has $1 million in the bank invested at 5%. They’re making $50,000 a year right there. They’ve passed your income means test, but their overall wealth that they possess perhaps doesn’t prohibit them from actually purchasing a unit in Anne Arundel County,” he said.

Anne Arundel Democratic Central Committee member Jenese Jones Oden, of Glen Burnie, said she wanted the bill to include some quality control standards for the affordable units after experiencing issues in 2020 when she moved into an affordable townhouse with her family that was “laden with mold.”

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“This is bigger than housing. This is about how we perceive and how we view members of this community,” Oden said.

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At the hearing, Trudy McFall, chair of the Anne Arundel Affordable Housing Coalition, expressed her appreciation that the legislation doesn’t relegate lower-income people to separate facilities in separate communities.

“This program allows you to begin to do scattered site, mixed income [development] – a much better way to deliver housing for people of all incomes,” McFall said.

Representatives from the construction industry spoke against the bill, saying it’s too hasty and that more rezoning should be done first.

“We have urged and continue to urge that this council pause this bill and come to the table for a broad discussion on housing availability,” said Isaac Ambruso from the Anne Arundel Chapter of the Maryland Building Industry Association, adding that his group is concerned the bill would lead to a decline in building activity in the county due to the extra hurdles it creates for developers.

One speaker, clinical social worker Deborah Gundry, said Annapolis’ version of the program has been life-changing for her, and she encouraged the council to push through the challenges of the bill. She purchased an affordable home at the Parkside Preserve complex that is part of Annapolis’ program and took residence in July.

“Owning my own home seemed like an impossible dream for several years,” said Gundry, who has cerebral palsy. “Being independent has felt like I’m not a burden anymore. I could have been independent several years ago had the entire county had the [moderately priced dwelling units] program. ... Start it now. Fix the kinks later.”


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