Monday, September 08, 2008

You Just Can’t Make Some Folks Happy

I guess it’s true that you just can’t make some people happy. I think Alan Klein falls into that category.

In this story by Larry Carson in yesterdays Sun, Greg Hamm, the General Manager of Columbia for General Growth Properties, unveiled a program that would dedicate a full 20 percent of the proposed 5,500 new residential units in Town Center to limited income families. Ten percent of those units would be set aside for families making less than $80,000 with the other ten percent going to families making less than $120,000. GGP is also proposing that approximately 200 rental units in the redeveloped Town Center “would be designed for shared use by students, hospital workers and retail and commercial workers.”

While many local affordable housing advocates praised the GGP plan, Alan Klein, spokesman for CoFoDoCo, was quoted as saying “The 20 percent…feels way too small.”

Alan further defined families making more $120,000 per year as “the wealthy few.”

What planet does he live on?

I wonder if any typical family in Columbia with a household income of $120,000 sees themselves as being wealthy.

I seriously doubt it.

I suppose Alan is just continuing to play the role of contrarian in the debate over the future of Columbia’s Town Center.

The 20 percent allocation seems pretty generous to me. More important it appears to be achievable thanks to GGP’s innovative funding mechanism. GGP is proposing to create a new non profit housing agency that would be funded by impact fees on new buildings in Town Center as well as surcharges on commercial and retail tenants in Town Center.

Twenty percent of the 5,500 new residential units equates to 1,100 new limited income housing units. This further equates to 220 units in each of the five new proposed Town Center neighborhoods (Symphony Overlook, Warfield, The Crescent, Merriweather, and The Lakefront).

I believe Alan Klein lives in the Hobbits Glen neighborhood in Columbia. How many limited income housing units are there in that neighborhood?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps some actual data would help here? The Howard County EDA site has a summary of Howard County economic data for 2006. According to that reference there were 98,919 households in Howard County, with a median household income of $94,260, meaning 50% of all households earned less than that and 50% earned more.

Turning to the detailed data (and doing some simple computations), we find that 37.7% of households earned less than $75,000, 15.2% earned between $75,000 and $100,000, 24.6% earned between $100,000 and $150,000, and 22.5% earned $150,000 or more.

Unfortunately the data as presented don't break the range between $100K and $150K down any further, but it's pretty clear that at least a quarter of Howard County households earned $120,000 or more in 2006, and perhaps as many as 30% or even more did so.

I'll leave it to others to decide if this constitutes a "wealthy few" or not.

wordbones said...

Good stuff. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

An update: The detailed household income data for Howard County in 2006 from the US Census Bureau supplies the missing breakdown. It turns out that in 2006 32.3% of Howard County households had income of $125,000 or more.

If we include the households with income between $120K and $125K, along with the effects of wage inflation between 2006 and now, we can pretty confidently state that at least a third of all Howard County households currently have an annual household income of $120,000 or more.

Anonymous said...

It gets better: If you take the 2007 census data and look at families (as opposed to households), Klein's "wealthy few" contains about half the families in Howard County. See my new post on this subject.

Young at Heart said...

Thanks to Frank and WB for all the info.

Actually, the numbers for the income limits were not just pulled out of thin air. There are specific percentages that are used by housing authorities to determine "affordable" housing, based on the income of the area. These guidelines are:
Low income: 0-60% of median
Moderate 60-80% of median
Middle or Workforce 80-110% of median

Because housing prices rose so fast in the last 10 years, it became more and more difficult for middle income people to afford houses.

I almost positive Klein was at a presentation where this was explained in detail, and it has been discussed by CCD at length, so I don't understand why he doesn't get it.

Anonymous said...

Housing prices are much more affordable than they were when the affordable housing issue was so popular, a year or two ago. It used to be that a cardboard box on the sidewalk in Howard County was worth $500K, but now homes are significantly cheaper.

No one clamoring for "affordable housing" has really addressed that.

Anonymous said...

I'm still confused on what constitutes "affordable housing" Sounds to me that at least 50% of Howard Countians deserve affordable housing. Why not the other 50%? Is it affected by the fact that we are one of the highest income counties in the country? Do we offer affordable housing to residents of Baltimore City whose income is $7 per hour? Who qualifies to live in Downtown Columbia area "affordable housing"?
Perhaps we need to rethink and redefine "affordable housing" and who qualifies to rent or purchase "affordable housing". Do we want to make it available to the police, teachers, firefighters who work in Howard County and live in Carroll County or to the police,teachers, and firefighters in Baltimore City simply because they qualify from an income point? What is affordable housing?

macsmom said...

My husband and I are teachers for HCPSS and we would definitely consider $120,000.00 to be rich!!! We live in a quadroplex that would be considered a "starter" home and we are unable to move up even slightly because of outrageous housing prices.At 41 and 49, we are not "starters." And we're not $7.00 hourly, either. Where do we fit in?

Anonymous said...

Alan Klein is one of the most agreeable people you'd ever meet - obviously you've not met him.

Teachers make money, they have unions, and they don't work a full year. Include nurses if we're to give anyone unearned benefits.

And speaking of unearned benes: If we promote government distribution of assets we thereby neutralize self-determination. What a crime that will be.

And to be even more practical and sensible and non-partisan (eg: targeting Alan just because he's liberal), I'll add that 25% could certainly be considered the 'few'.

And lastly, you're making a sizable assumption that he was accurately quoted.

Anonymous said...

"I'll add that 25% could certainly be considered the 'few'."

As I noted in a separate blog post, my initial estimates were significantly off: in 2007 almost 40% of households in Howard County had household income of $120K or more, and almost half of all families in Howard County had family income of $120K or more. (The "family" figures exclude single-person households.)

My point here is not to dis Alan Klein, rather it's to get us past soundbites to the more complicated reality. (And, yes, Klein could have been misquoted; if so he can certainly put out a correction.)

As noted in previous comments, Howard County is characterized by both (relatively) high incomes and (relatively) high costs for housing, the major expenditure for typical households. That's why people making $100K+ a year don't necessarily consider themselves "rich", and why folks like that are included in affordable housing programs like the one proposed by GGP.

However at the same time I think it's misleading to imply that the market rate units (i.e., the 80% of units not included in the affordable housing program) are going to be within the reach of only a few select Howard County families. Based on county demographics I doubt this will be the case.

wordbones said...


I don't know.

Housing prices rise and fall with supply and demand. Any program that seeks to create below market opportunities for a given class of residents (teachers, firefighters, police, hospital workers, etc.)will require capital to fill the gap. That capital will come from private enterprise or government.

Or both, which is most likely.

As to I said, I don't know. I hope it happens in time to help your family.



Once again, nice stuff. Your comments here are greatly appreciated.


PZGURU said...

I have to agree with WB that 20% of the units being reserved for "affordable" housing is a fair amount. I think that is the norm in the Zoning Regulations, for certain zones that mandate such units.

As for the income level and what is low, medium, or high, $120k is a nice chunk of change. I would be stretched to consider that as the benchmark for making someone eligible for "affordable" housing assistance. IMHO, the income threshold should be much lower.