It wasn't surprising really. People who work to improve the stock of affordable housing in Prince George's County -- and the people who need that housing -- know about County Executive Wayne Curry's disdain for rental property. But seeing the policies of neglect and demolition in print hurt [Metro, Aug. 9].
Curry's twisted demolish-it-and-they-will-go-away housing policy has turned the dream of affordable housing into a nightmare. It isn't just that rental units aren't welcome -- neither are the people who need those units. For example, the county waited until the last minute to apply for Welfare to Work Section 8 vouchers that had been set aside in the federal budget for Prince George's and seven other jurisdictions. It reluctantly applied for its portion of the $32 million subsidy, knowing that it would counsel families to move elsewhere.
A recent Brookings Institution report shows that Prince George's does have more poverty than Montgomery County and other jurisdictions to the west. But a policy of demolishing needed and viable housing won't benefit residents or improve neighborhoods. And it sure won't turn Landover into Potomac. Investments in economic development and human capital -- such as job training, better schools, micro-enterprise lending and commercial development -- will increase assets and build wealth in Prince George's.
A county executive is elected to represent all of the people in a jurisdiction, not just the well-off. A policy of not rehabilitating rental housing and reducing older buildings by 30 percent mocks the needs of thousands of Prince George's County residents. In a 1999 analysis of need required by HUD, the county stated that 31 percent of households in Prince George's spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. In the spring the county opened its Section 8 waiting list for the first time in years: In two weeks 18,000 county residents applied. Through a lottery system, 3,000 were placed on the waiting list; 1,800 households still are waiting.
The intention to reduce rental units by 30 percent is evidence that Curry wants homeless and low-income families to move elsewhere. HUD should be cautious about allocating funds to a county bent on destroying affordable rental housing without the intention of replacing it.
If the county feels it has too many low-income rental units inside the Beltway, it should develop affordable housing options in other areas, such as Mitchellville and Bowie. If it wants to attract wealth inside the Beltway, it should improve the schools and public safety. Deconcentrating poverty improves the lives of the poor; forcing the poor on someone else's doorstep benefits no one.
Day care workers, nurses aides, service-sector employees and county workers who are paid below a living wage need and deserve a safe and decent place to live. Old and young people, families experiencing divorce and job changes often need rental housing.
Too often, affordable housing is mistaken for substandard housing. If the county wants to decrease the number of substandard units, it should increase code enforcement and provide a loan fund for property owners to modernize aging housing stock. Rental units can be well-maintained and managed and be an asset to a community.
Perhaps Curry needs to visit Montgomery County, which has spent more than 20 years integrating affordable housing into communities, thereby avoiding the pockets of blight and neglect prevalent inside the Beltway in Prince George's.
Prince George's council member Peter Shapiro is right -- the county's housing policy feels like a war on the poor because it is a war on the poor. It should be stopped.
-- Becky Sherblom
is executive director of the Maryland Center for Community Development, a nonprofit organization working for affordable housing.