The Maryland General Assembly wound up its 1983 session this week without finding a way to make up for the disappearance of millions of federal dollars once spent on housing programs for the state's low- and moderate-income residents.
It was an impossible task, of course. Federal subsidies were the major ingredients in the financing of most housing assistance in the state.
While Maryland legislators did not come up with much money, they did create a housing policy commission that is charged with, among other tasks, looking for ways to pay for housing.
In addition, the assembly approved $5 million for rehabilitation loans for low-income home owners and rental apartment owners, and passed a sunshine law for condominium owners.
The condominium measure requires that boards of directors meetings must be open except when the body is considering certain sensitive areas, that all unit owners must receive copies of a proposed budget 30 days before before it is voted on by the board, and that board meetings cannot be held on less than 10 nor more than 90 days' written notice. The law, similar to one enacted in Montgomery County, contains other provisions backed by the Maryland Association of Condominium owners.
A controversial proposal, the Unemployed Bill of Rights, was defeated late in the legislative session. The measure would have provided a six-month delay on payment of utility, rent and mortgage bills for the unemployed.
A task force on housing, appointed last year by Gov. Harry Hughes, recommended the establishment of an independent housing finance agency. The Hughes administration, however, was reluctant to create a new agency outside the Department of Economic and Community Development, which now administers housing programs. Hughes aides and the task force worked out the compromise bill that put the new commission under the jurisdiction of the department, said Del. Anne S. Perkins, a Baltimore Democrat and member of the task force.
Ten commission members will be appointed by the governor and will include housing advocates, bankers, developers and representatives of local jurisdictions, Perkins said.
Their job will be to look for ways to increase the housing supply, assess the state's housing needs and compile a report each year for the governor and the General Assembly, she said.
These housing needs may reach staggering proportions. Last year was the first in 40 years in which Congress did not approve any funds for construction of low-income housing.
In the city of Baltimore alone, more than 40,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing, Perkins said.
"Over a quarter of a million, or 17.2 percent, of all Maryland households require some form of housing assistance," said Naomi Russell, director of housing for the Regional Planning Council, which covers Baltimore and five surrounding counties. "The federal government is really getting out of the subsidized housing business, for all intents and purposes. What most states have done (in the past) is supplement the federal programs...States just don't have the resources to make up what the federal government has done."
About $20 million in federal rent subsidies will continue to flow into Maryland each year for units already built by Section 8 low-income housing funds, according to Ardath M. Cade, assistant secretary for housing in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Despite the dreary outlook for housing assistance, the poor of Maryland will fare better than many others, she said.
Her department "has been able to finance construction of rental housing that does not have a subsidy but will serve moderate and low-income people," she said. Maryland "has been more advanced than many (states) in providing general obligation money for housing, as well as tax exempt revenue bonds."
The state's housing efforts have resulted in the choice of Maryland as one of four states that will hold "major conferences on affordable housing" next July, Cade said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is arranging the conferences.