Don't Reduce Housing Help

The Howard County Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing has been following with great interest the debates on how our county can address the needs of people who work in our midst but cannot afford to live here. Recently a poster came to light. It shows a certified nursing assistant and has this bold statement: "She can save your life, but she can't be your neighbor." Do we, as residents of Howard County, want our community to be one where nurses and other essential workers cannot afford to live?

Our coalition began more than two years ago with a simple goal -- to bring Howard County in sync with our neighbors in Montgomery and Frederick counties and get backing for zoning that enables moderate- and middle-income working families to live in Howard County. We live in a great county with a strategic location, excellent public and private schools, good government and the inclusionary jewel of Columbia in our midst.

Housing costs are going up at an unprecedented rate. We have heard from members of our congregations that people are worried that their children will not be able to afford to live in Howard County. Taxpayers spend around $100,000 to educate each child in the schools we are so proud of.

After they graduate from college, where can they live? Maybe in their parents' houses but certainly not in apartments or condos of their own in most cases. And where can young married people live?

The county does have a progressive moderate-income housing program for families that make 40 percent to 80 percent of the Baltimore region's median income, or between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

The Department of Planning and Zoning recently informed us that between Jan. 1, 2004, and July 20, 2005, 291 apartments, 144 townhouses and 10 detached homes that were not age-restricted became available to moderate-income residents in that program. That is good. We are starting to see the benefits of the program.

However, the county proposes to provide needed units for middle-income households (earning $60,000 to $100,000) by making fewer units available for moderate-income households. In our business, we call this robbing from Peter to pay Paul. We as a coalition believe that the county has a moral obligation and an economic incentive to provide opportunities for housing to people in both categories. We need more housing opportunities for those with middle incomes without taking away the opportunities in place for those with moderate incomes.

There has been discussion at the county level to take off the table any possibility that development in the western part of the county would require opportunities for middle-income households. This is unacceptable.

Think of your children, their teachers, your first responders, your health care professionals, the people who help you fix the things in your house, the people who work at the Columbia Mall, the bankers, your aging parents, even your clergy. These are the people the Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing is working for. Are you with us? Let us and your elected officials know what you think.

Barbara Hope