From her trailer home in Dunkirk, Rebecca Lamb has watched housing prices in Calvert County rise steadily over the past three decades and skyrocket in recent years.
Now she's worried that her increasing rent -- which has more than doubled over the years from $200 a month to $472 -- will push her out of the county.
"There's just not enough affordable housing in Calvert County," said Lamb, 53, a former saleswoman who lives on Social Security and disability benefits. "The county and the elected officials aren't doing enough to help."
Lamb was one of 60 people who crowded into All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunderland on Wednesday night for the inaugural meeting of Housing for All Calvert, a newly formed coalition of religious and civic groups dedicated to increasing the stock of affordable housing in the county.
Roberta Safer, a co-chairman of the group, called on the county commissioners to address the issue during the year-long rewriting of the Calvert zoning ordinance.
"We feel it is a function of government to help its citizens in need," said Safer, also a director of the state League of Women Voters who deals with housing issues. "But the county commissioners have not had the political will to tackle this problem."
The average price of a house in Southern Maryland has risen greatly in recent years, according to the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee. From 2003 to the end of 2004, the average house price jumped from $270,771 to $349,375 in Calvert; from $205,915 to $304,750 in Charles; and from $225,065 to $289,716 in St. Mary's.
Those prices are far out of reach for many who work in the area. A nurse in Prince Frederick can't afford a house costing more than $167,111. An elementary school teacher in La Plata can't afford a home of more than $113,727. And any dwelling that costs more than $22,142 is out of reach for a retail cashier in Lexington Park, according to an analysis by the committee, a private nonprofit social service coordinating agency.
Safer said that more than 800 people are on a waiting list in Calvert County to receive housing subsidy vouchers.
At the meeting -- whose theme was "Work Here. Live Where?" -- the group's leaders presented six proposals for addressing the problem:
* Promote accessory housing units -- such as in-law apartments and converted basements or upper floors -- by waiving impact fees and encouraging lending institutions to make loan programs available.
* Encourage rental apartment developments -- such as Silverwood in Prince Frederick -- by expanding areas zoned for apartments and by allowing apartments above commercial and office buildings.
* Persuade the county to donate or purchase land to create an affordable housing project in each of the three election districts in the county.
* Simplify the application process for county funding for low-income housing.
* Adopt inclusive zoning policies that would call for new residential developments to include one affordable housing unit for every 10 constructed.
* Identify a central contact point for all available rental housing in the county.
Greg Bowen, the county's planning director, said many of the proposals were good ones and had been considered by the county's Affordable Housing Task Force.
He also said that county government has taken steps to address the problem, such as donating the land for the Yardley Hills affordable housing development in Prince Frederick. But, he added, it has been difficult to respond to the recent spike in housing prices.
"It's not just Calvert County," he said. "Every jurisdiction now is struggling to deal with affordable housing. When housing goes up 50 percent, what do you do?"
County Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) said she is committed to addressing the problem but said some of the proposals were not feasible. She said the county had no land to donate for affordable housing, and inclusive zoning would not work in a county as small as Calvert.
She did express her support for apartments above businesses and other commercial spaces, and she promised to raise the issue with the Board of Commissioners.
Del. Sue Kullen (D-Calvert) received loud applause when she pledged to put "a little pressure" on the commissioners to persuade them to address the problem.
The Housing for All Calvert group plans to attend a public hearing on the zoning rewrite scheduled for Aug. 9 to raise the issue with the commissioners directly.
"It seems to me like they have been dragging their feet on doing something to promote affordable housing," said Richard Hu, a retired naval engineer who lives in Chesapeake Ranch Estates. "We need to act now."