A task force studying housing needs in Maryland is expected to urge establishment of an independent agency with the major goal of providing housing for low-income residents.
The 19-member group, headed by Howard County Council Chairman Ruth Keeton, was charged with assessing the state's needs in a time of "revolution in federal housing policy," according to a draft of its proposals. Most housing assistance programs funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development have been eliminated or severely cut back.
"With HUD pulling out and housing costs up so much, the state's housing needs are overwhelming," Keeton said. Establishment of an independent agency would give housing advocates more clout and flexibility, she added.
Home finance and rehabilitation programs now are administered by the state's economic and community development department.
The task force, composed of local and state government officials and housing workers, was appointed in August 1981, and expects to send its final recommendations to Gov. Harry Hughes within the next few weeks.
Although Maryland appears to be ahead of most states in the search for ways to fill the gaps in housing funds left by the federal cuts, it will be unable to help its poorest citizens, several task force members agreed.
In the past, the state has combined money from federal Section 8 new construction funds with money from tax exempt revenue bonds to aid families with incomes as low as $5,957 annually. Without the Section 8 program, which has been eliminated, the state can help only families with incomes of $20,000 or more, according to a recent task force report.
How to care for the low-income citizens falling through holes in the so-called safety net is "something we in housing are very, very worried about," said Sarah Underwood, Montgomery's housing and community development director.
The task force expects to recommend that the new agency be guided by directors appointed by the governor and representing the state legislature, executive branch, members of the "private housing community such as developers," and the financial community, homebuilders, consumers and local government.
Another recommendation is expected to call for significant salary increases for state housing workers, whose pay now is far below that of employes of comparable agencies in other states, according to the draft proposals. A Price Waterhouse & Co. survey shows, for example, that an executive director in housing for Maryland earns $37,500 annually, compared with $54,900 to $63,600 in Baltimore and $50,000 to $55,000 in Montgomery, and $56,000 to $84,000 in Virginia.
Other recommendations urge approval of the full amount allowed of housing general obligation bonds, which would provide $25.5 million for housing financing and rehabilitation; that the state should explore with the trustees of the state retirement systems possibilities for investing pension funds in residential mortgages, and encourage the use of "additional housing resources such as mobile homes, cooperatives, manufactured housing, conversion of unutilized public schools."
Keeton said the task force hopes to prepare the final report within the next month and forward it to Gov. Harry Hughes. The governor already has extended the life of the group for another year, until October 1983, so that the members can follow up on implimentation of its recommendations, she said. The task force also may help write housing legislation to be introduced in the General Assembly next month.