Keep Housing Help Coming For BRAC Personnel, Official Says

By DAN LAMOTHE, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - Even with the already-record use of its mortgage assistance programs, Maryland must continue to promote its ability to keep homes affordable as flocks of families move to the state to work on expanding military installations, the state's housing secretary said Wednesday.

Raymond A. Skinner, secretary of housing and community development, said the programs are vital to insure newcomers can afford homes as demand for them increases. Struggles in the sub-prime mortgage market prompted homeowners to seek a state-record 3,900 mortgages totaling $750 million in fiscal 2007, more than double any year before, he said.

"We had a record year (last year), and we're looking to do more in the future," he said. "Our task is to get the word out, and I think once we do that, they'll come running."

The comments came during a presentation to Maryland's base realignment and closure subcommittee attended by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, military officials, state department heads and Anne Arundel County officials at Quiet Waters Park.

The state anticipates 21,800 new households as a result of the base realignment process, which calls for the rapid expansion of Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Skinner said. Projections show about 84 percent of those families would buy homes, while the rest would rent, he said.

Among the programs available:

-- House Keys For Employees, which provides home buyers financial help with down payments;

-- The Builder/Developer Incentive Program, in which the state will match dollar-for-dollar contributions up to $5,000 on a home buyer's down payment made by a developer;

-- The Community Partner Incentive Program, in which the state will match dollar-for-dollar contributions up to $5,000 on a home buyer's down payment made by a charity or non-profit organization.

Bob Leib, special assistant to Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, also made a presentation to the committee Wednesday, focusing on the impact the expansion of Fort Meade in western Anne Arundel County will have on the state.

"We're connected as a region, and if we don't approach (planning) that way, I think it's a mistake," Leib said.

One example he and Leopold brought up: Through an enhanced use lease deal, the Army anticipates the development of 2 million square feet of office space by private developers on the grounds of Fort Meade.

The Army and county officials continue to work toward an agreement in which the Army would cover some expenses the county has on things like roads, but no deal has been struck, Leopold said.

The state is also in the process of planning a symposium for small business owners to address how they can benefit from the base realignment process, particularly with construction, Brown said Wednesday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration stayed a tentative plan to hold it in November, Brown said, to devote more time to ideas for bridging Maryland's anticipated budget shortfall, Brown said.

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