Columbia's Enterprise Foundation announced plans this week to provide $550 million in grants and favorable financing for building "green" low-income housing nationwide that is energy efficient, clean and close to mass transit.

The idea is to protect the environment and the pocketbooks of low-income families, who spend nearly 40 cents of every dollar they earn on transportation and about 17 percent of their income on average on energy, the foundation said. It lined up a coalition of corporate, philanthropic and financial partners to provide money and expertise.

"Affordable housing is not affordable if utility bills eat up a paycheck, or if conditions in the home contribute to asthma, or if housing is disconnected from transportation services," said Stockton Williams, the foundation's vice president for external affairs.

The foundation has raised $2.75 million for grants to help developers meet the group's construction criteria. About $1.5 million came from the Kresge Foundation, $1 million from the Home Depot Foundation and $250,000 from the Enterprise Foundation. The tally should soon top $5 million, once pending commitments roll in, the group said.

To help builders acquire land, hire architects and conduct other pre-development activities, the foundation secured $20 million in low-interest loans and hopes to secure $30 million more soon. Financial institutions would lend money to the foundation, which in turn would re-lend it at below-market rates to developers. Meanwhile, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, M&T Bank, Washington Mutual and JPMorgan Chase agreed to provide up to $500 million in equity investments for which they will receive tax credits.

The first project selected by the group is a rehab of an existing, 50-unit apartment building north of downtown Seattle.

Since its creation in 1982 by James and Patty Rouse, the foundation has built about 160,000 affordable homes nationwide with $5 billion in grants, loans and other financing.

Kittleman Changes Course

The decision by County Council member Allan H. Kittleman (R-West County) to seek the state Senate seat held by his late father helped narrow the field of Republicans in the next county executive race.

Incumbent James N. Robey (D) is barred by term limits from seeking a third term. Kittleman, who was expected to get the nod for the Senate seat last night from the Howard and Carroll counties GOP central committees, had been seriously considering a run for county executive in 2006.

Council member Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County), who withdrew his name from consideration in support of Kittleman, now expects to seek the GOP nomination for county executive. On the Democratic side, council member Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) is also planning to run for executive.

Kittleman waited until after his father's memorial service Sept. 21 at Wilde Lake High School before focusing on his own political future. In the end, he said, family concerns -- he and his wife Robin have four children ages 5 to 12 -- pushed him toward the Senate seat his dad, Robert H. Kittleman, occupied for four years. He's 45 and said he wanted the time to see his kids grow up.

"I did it for family reasons," he said. "It seemed like a better fit."

Merdon said he and Kittleman had talked things over. "This is the best for both of us," he said. Del. Gail H. Bates (R-Howard) withdrew her name from consideration last week, saying she was pleased to defer to Kittleman.

"I could understand his desire to fill his dad's seat," said Bates, who is one of two House of Delegate members from District 9A. "Allan is a good friend, and we'll be able to work well as a team, as we did with his father," she said.

Ombudsman for Schools

The Howard County school board last week voted 4 to 1 to establish an ombudsman position that would help residents access school services and resolve their concerns.

An ombudsman would "be able to identify issues that affect a large percentage of the community," said board member Joshua Kaufman, who proposed the job. "It's a way of helping promote systemic improvement."

The ombudsman would act like a traffic cop, fielding calls and letters from residents and directing them to the appropriate departments and staff. He would also help ensure that proper procedures are followed when parents or teachers have concerns, though he would have no decision-making authority.

Sandra H. French, who voted against the position, said she was concerned that the ombudsman, who falls under the board's supervision, would face a conflict of interest.

"I think there's a conflict in loyalty when one half of the position has to do the work for the board and the other half of the position requires that person to remain neutral," she said.

French also said she thought that the $50,000 to $90,000 salary range for the job is too high. However, board Chairman Courtney Watson said she believes the board could hire someone for no more than $60,000.

The board is slated to vote on a final job description in October and begin advertising later that month.

Reporter Ylan Q. Mui also contributed to this report.