How much do you earn? Less than $44,540? Too bad. We don't want you to move into Prince George's County.
That is the message County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan is sending to prospective home buyers because a county study showed that unless a family's income is $44,540 annually -- or enough to buy a $98,000 house -- it cannot pay sufficient county taxes to offset the cost of the public services the county will be providing its new household. So Mr. Hogan is telling housing developers he will not give his approval to new plans for housing units that cost less than $98,000 or to current requests from developers for sewer hookups on houses that cost less than $85,000.
Mr. Hogan's justification for the new and controversial policy is the restrictions of the county's TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders) program. That plan limits the amount of property tax revenue the county government can receive from homeowners to the amount of property taxes collected last year. As a result, when new houses are built in Prince George's, every individual homeowner pays less property taxes because there are more people pitching in to pay a set amount of tax money. Mr. Hogan is now trying to limit the influx of people into Prince George's who have low incomes and who would place a high demand on county services. He and many county residents want newcomers who can pay taxes and won't burden the costly public services system.
TRIM is not the full reason for Mr. Hogan's new policy, however. Prince George's County officials have long complained that the county has become, by default, the metropolitan region's wrong-side-of-the-tracks, the place where the poor go when they are forced out of other jurisdictions. The county loses money on low-cost housing. In other parts of the metropolitan area, such as Montgomery County, zoning laws and constant shortage of funds for public housing have made these areas unavailable to the poor. Now Prince George's is reacting to the influx of poor and is trying to cut off construction of houses for people who can't pay their own way through tax dollars. Prince George's is not to be blamed for that so much as the entire region is to be shamed for avoiding the problem.
But Mr. Hogan's new housing policy for Prince George's does not only shut the county door on the poor. It also hurts the people already living in the county. Over 95 percent of the families now living in Prince George's don't earn $44,540 annually. When they want to move up to a bigger house or a house in a nicer area of the county, it is unlikely that they will find affordable housing in the future if developers are not allowed to build houses below the $100,000 level. In addition, construction of small apartment buildings and low-cost housing for the poor is less likely, leaving poor people already in the county with little hope of better housing.