Prince George's County officials tried last week to reassure members of a County Council committee that the housing department is not trying to squeeze low-income residents out of their apartments in the county.
Housing Director Jalal Greene said the department wants to create a different balance of housing types available to residents but said that doesn't mean reducing housing for low- and middle-income residents.
He said the department is trying to improve the quality of low-income housing by encouraging developers to renovate distressed properties and to reduce the density of apartments when possible.
But he disputed news reports that said the county has a policy of reducing apartments by 30 percent.
"When these properties come to us [for financing], we require they have substantial rehabilitation done to them," Greene told the council's transportation, housing and environment committee Thursday. "Our view is low-income families should have quality affordable housing."
Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) requested that housing officials brief the committee after news reports in August that County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) had put in place a policy of reducing the number of apartments in the county by 30 percent. Many of these apartments already are vacant, though Greene did not have information on vacancy rates.
Greene acknowledged that the 30 percent apartment reduction is part of a strategy, as opposed to a policy, to encourage developers who asked the county for financial help to buy and renovate distressed properties.
The money isn't being offered unless a developer agrees to reduce the apartments by 30 percent, according to developers and county officials.
Developers who want to build in the county but aren't seeking government subsidies would not be affected by the push to reduce apartments by 30 percent.
Maloney said he was upset that Curry had not informed the council of the 30 percent policy and its link to financial packages that need council approval.
"We have sat here and routinely approved [financing packages], but I was never aware of any overall policy," Maloney said.
Greene said the policy has been misinterpreted. He called it a "strategy" for achieving a balanced housing stock in the county.
"There is no 30 percent reduction," Greene said. "That's not a policy we follow."
But as a strategy, Greene added, "we have looked at a 30 percent reduction in density in . . . structures that need renovation."
A Housing Policy Task Force appointed by Curry concluded in 1996 that although Prince George's trailed Montgomery in the number of apartment units, it led the region with the most subsidized units, 16,000, compared with 10,000 in Montgomery and 7,000 in Fairfax County.
Greene said the county is trying to encourage more executive or "upscale" homes. He said the county should consider a more streamlined building permit process that would not be as cumbersome to potential developers.
He also suggested giving priority to development projects that offer "exceptional quality in product design."
Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), a member of the housing committee, said he is concerned that the county is too focused on attracting upscale development. He said a policy to reduce some low-income housing by 30 percent still could be displacing residents.
Reducing affordable housing "is in some people's interest unless you are low or moderate income," Shapiro said. "What I'm looking for in a housing policy is not just the high end but also the low end."
County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) said he supports the county executive's policies.
"The executive wants to bring a better balance, and I agree with him," Estepp said. "We need to encourage our regional partners to be a part of helping to share in the housing balance needs."
Housing Priority Goals and Housing Units Provided
The Prince George's County housing department is required by federal housing rules to develop a set of goals every five years. These goals are used when the county applies for grants and other federal funding. The data below show the county's goals and the housing built or rehabilitated from 1994 to 1999.
* Construct or rehabilitate single family homes; provide home ownership opportunities. Goal -- 335 Actual -- 951
* Construct or rehab multifamily housing. Goal -- 1,018 Actual -- 2,030
* Construct or rehab elderly housing. Goal -- 930 Actual -- 920
* Provide housing for mentally ill and other non-homeless, special-needs people. Goal -- 30Actual -- 155
* Provide rental housing for people with AIDS. Goal -- 90 Actual -- 495
SOURCE: Prince George's County housing department