Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo unveiled a housing policy yesterday that is intended to make room for affordable housing for low-income families in one of Maryland's richest counties.
Bobo, who has called housing the most difficult issue facing her administration, has worked with her staff to develop a general plan for addressing the county's need to match housing with the growing numbers of low- and middle-income people working there as teachers, firefighters and police, as well as to provide shelter for the elderly and handicapped.
Althea O'Connor, Bobo's administrative assistant, said yesterday that the action was in response to the public's feeling that the county needs to do more in the area of affordable housing.
O'Connor presented a draft of the 14-point statement to the county's Housing and Community Development board last night. It contains no numerical goals or funding targets and mentions no specific programs. These will be developed later, probably during budget negotiations next year, O'Connor said.
"This is the first step toward being more specific," she said. "Before we spend a lot of energy and time going one way, we want to make sure we've looked at the whole picture."
Debate about Howard's housing has primarily focused on its cost. Prices for rental and owner-occupied housing tend to be lower than those in Washington but more expensive than those in Baltimore. Because so much of the county's population growth has taken place relatively recently, there is little in the way of housing rehabilitation.
Teachers, police officers and other county employes have complained that they are unable to live near where they work, while some employers have said they have had difficulty recruiting workers.
In addition to recommending that the county's housing stock match the incomes and special needs of its employes and residents, the policy states that the county should:
Encourage "innovative construction and financing techniques" that tend to reduce housing costs for homeowners and renters.
Modify housing, when possible, to accommodate changes such as the increase in older people and single heads of households.
Maintain safe and sanitary housing conditions through a "timely" rental housing inspection process and by encouraging homeowners to make improvements that save energy. Facilitate the production and preservation of low-cost housing through zoning changes and builder incentives and through direct county funding if necessary.
Such public housing should be dispersed throughout the county, the policy states, and it should provide opportunities for families with low incomes to purchase homes.
Ronald Davis, Howard's administrator in charge of housing programs, said yesterday that the policy would essentially put into writing what the county has practiced for some time. In 1980, the County Council passed a resolution dealing with subsidized housing, but this is the first comprehensive outline of the county's overall needs, Davis said.
Officials in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties have such written housing policies.
Before last night's meeting, board members had been asked to devise their own recommendations.
Among them were a suggestion that subsidized housing programs include support services such as transportation and child care and creation of procedures for evaluating existing programs.
The county executive is planning to present the draft policy for comments Saturday at a meeting of the Howard County Housing Alliance. The housing board plans to hold a public hearing on the policy in early January.