Calvert County may soon have a public administrator assigned to coordinate the development of affordable housing for the ever-growing number of poor and homeless individuals in the area.
If approved, the administrator, who most likely would be selected from the roster of existing county employees, would be directed by the Calvert County Board of Commissioners to consolidate ongoing efforts to provide affordable housing in the area.
"Nothing gets moved because nobody is really responsible," said Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large). "In the meantime, people are falling through the cracks."
The proposal to assign an administrator was suggested by affordable-housing advocates who addressed the board on Tuesday. Joseph P. Danahy, a founder of the Calvert County Affordable Housing Coalition, told commissioners that the need for more low-cost housing in Calvert County has been an issue for 20 years and that during that time, "the problem has increased significantly and cannot be fixed with a Band-Aid approach."
"As we go into the new millennium, we have to ask ourselves some questions," Danahy said. "What kind of county do we want to be? Do we care about the general well-being of our citizens? Do we remember that by next year, more than 4,000 households in the county will be earning less than $26,000 per year, and it will take an income of $28,000 per year to live here?"
In Calvert County, hundreds of people are homeless and several thousand others can't afford to rent or buy a home in the area, according to the coalition. Advocates say the problem has been exacerbated by meteoric growth in the county, where population has increased at the fastest rate in the state. That growth, they point out, has driven up housing costs in the county drastically.
In May, the coalition presented the commissioners with a broad-based plan to address housing needs in the county. The plan included a request for a county housing administrator, plus more than $5 million in county funds during the next five years. Under the plan, the money would go into a housing trust fund and would be used to help create 250 housing units for first-time homeowners and 250 rental units, as well as to rehabilitate 250 existing homes that are still without indoor plumbing. To date, the commissioners are considering pledging $2 million over the next five years toward the effort.
"While this initial offer is appreciated . . . we still feel our original estimate is essential to eventually attain the 750 units of affordable housing that Calvert County will need," Danahy told the commissioners.
Housing advocates are asking the county simply to assign someone in an existing county department--possibly the Department of Public Works--to oversee affordable housing, at least on a part-time basis.
"Regardless what path is selected for implementation, the recommendation to encourage an increase in the availability of affordable housing . . . should be approached by county government," Danahy said.
If appointed, the housing administrator could help oversee the flow of money from the trust fund and coordinate the various individuals and agencies already working with the needy. However, Commissioner David F. Hale (R-Owings) stopped short of describing the administrator as a "housing czar," pointing out that the Board of Commissioners would still serve as the ultimate authority.
"The czar," Hale said, "will be us."