Affordable Housing is Important Issue That Must be Addressed

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

Southern Maryland is a great place to live. Unfortunately, new homes are pricing out key members of our community such as teachers; first responders, senior citizens and other invaluable members of our community simply can’t afford to live here anymore.

Affordable housing has become such an important issue that the Maryland League of Women Voters as well as their chapters in St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties have rallied around the cause as well as the Calvert Crusade for Children among many other concerned non-profit groups.

I believe as many people as possible should have the opportunity to own a home. And they shouldn’t have to travel miles away to do so. Owning one’s home is part of the “American Dream.” Too many people are deprived of that opportunity. Our local Housing Authorities are doing their best to find affordable housing for our burgeoning population, but quite simply, they are overwhelmed despite their hard, diligent work.

So obviously, the issue of affordable housing is one we need to address immediately. I tried to do something about it during the 2006 General Assembly Session when I co-sponsored a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 880 that would have established a Workforce Housing Grant Program. This bill passed in the Senate, but the House of Delegates took no action. I plan on re-introducing it during the 2007 Session.

This program would have provided flexible capital funds to qualifying counties “for development costs” of workforce housing. A county qualifies for participation in the program if it has a five-year comprehensive plan approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (USHUD), or a comprehensive plan. The plans must contain specified information and seek to create or preserve workforce housing. Funding must be proportionally distributed among the counties based on population.

A qualifying county must provide an equal match for any WHGP funds it receives. Qualifying counties and municipal corporations must report annually to DHCD by January 1 on the use of the program funds.

Rental units must remain workforce housing for at least 40 years. If the Department of Housing and Community Development agrees, a unit developed with WHGP funds can include a “household of low or moderate income. The bill also would have established guidelines for repayment of WHGP funds by the initial owner of an ownership unit if the initial owner transfers title to the property,” according the bill’s fiscal note.

According to Senate Bill 880’s fiscal note, workforce housing is defined as rental housing affordable to household who make between 50 and 100 percent of the area median income (AMI) and homeownership housing affordable to households that make between 60 percent and 120 percent of the AMI or 60 to 150 percent of AMI in areas targeted by the Secretary of Housing and Community Development for the Maryland Mortgage Program.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs 30 percent or less of household income.

The nexus of this bill began on October 18, 2005 when the Governor signed Executive Order 40 of 2005, which established the Workforce Housing Task Force. The task force was composed of 13 members, including the Secretaries of the Departments of Planning, Business and Economic Development, Transportation, Housing and Community Development and nine members appointed by the Secretary of Planning.

The task force was to:

· Review the finding and recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Housing Policy.

· Define the parameters of workforce housing.

· Estimate current and projected supply of demand for workplace housing.

· Evaluate market-based workforce housing best practices

· Recognize local government planning issues; and

· Recommend options for addressing workforce housing issues and providing technical assistance for local jurisdictions.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, factors cited for establishing the task force include Maryland’s status as the state with the second longest commuting times, population growth in the median price in housing as compared to the growth in the median household income and need to identify positive solutions to address the need for workforce housing, separate from affordable housing.

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