Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Enough Affordable Housing in Columbia

Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly appreciate the need for affordable housing in Howard County but it does seem that Columbia already bears a disproportionate burden of the counties low cost housing stock. According to David Yungmann and New City Alliance, “Columbia currently contains more than half the affordable housing in Howard County.”

Apparently that isn’t enough for some housing advocates. They want a redeveloped Columbia Town Center to accommodate even more low cost housing than the developer has already generously proposed. According to this article by Larry Carson in The Sun, “Advocates of affordable housing want 10 percent of the new residential units to be set aside for those with incomes under $40,000, with another 10 percent for those with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.”

General Growth Properties is proposing “no more than 15 percent of the units be reduced-price housing, or about 825 of the 5,500 units. Hamm said his company would create a fund of up to $30 million to pay for that by charging builders a $4,000 premium per housing unit and by charging commercial tenants 5 cents per square foot.”

The company would initially establish the fund with a $5 million donation. That seems pretty generous to me.


Anonymous said...

Proponents of affordable housing in Howard County need to consider a much better alternative rather than bringing balt city folks out here as has been done in Laurel for years.

The better fix is to pay balt city teachers twice what the county teachers make, and cut county teacher salaries significantly (money to go through state for redistribution). Who has the tougher job, Balt City teachers or Howard's? Where do we need the really skilled teachers?

Affordable housing solves nothing unless it's very temporary and helps few Howard families. If we're going to do something substantive for the underclass, realigning teachers to fill much needed gaps in a city where the drop out rate is 60% (yes, 60% do not graduate from high school) would help the entire state of maryland.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's Laurel that has the weightiest share of subsidized housing.

Anonymous said...

Is it really 5500 units? They already have approval for 2,300, and are asking for an ADDITIONAL 5500. Right?

Sarah said...

It's easy to throw around what "needs" to be done, Anon, but when push comes to shove, Howard County officials have no pull over how much Baltimore City teachers make. The easy fix (right or wrong), is requiring affordable housing in new developments.

I agree-- we could use more affordable housing (especially in a place where someone earning $40- $60K is someone who could use help paying for housing) but I think GGP's plan is sufficient. 15% is a good percentage, and the amount they are putting toward it is admirable.

Regarding New City Alliance's quote-- what is the proportion of total population in Columbia to the rest of Howard County, I wonder.

Trevor said...

I believe there is an adequate amount of low-income housing in Howard County already. That's right, I called it "low-income housing." I do not know where this politically correct moniker "affordable housing" came from, but it is a poor choice of words. No matter what the cost of housing, it is affordable for somebody.

GGP and Howard County should build whatever type of housing will bring in the most income for their business and the tax coffers, respectively. This will make all the housing more affordable for all of the other residents of the county. Why is this? The county stands to gain millions in tax revenue from the Downtown Columbia development. Unless they waste it on harebrained health care handouts, this additional revenue could be used to reduce every Howard County homeowner's taxes, thereby making homes more affordable.

Trust me, there are already plenty of places in Columbia to live if you have a lesser income. Besides, there is nothing in the Constitution that says everyone has a right to own a home. Look on Craigslist right now, as there are plenty of homes in Columbia for rent for a very reasonable price. When I was right out of school a couple years ago, I rented in some relatively inexpensive homes in Columbia. They were in very nice neighborhoods, with nice amenities in walking distance.

Also, keep in mind, the money GGP is putting towards funding the low income housing does not appear out of the ether. This is money that GGP will want to make up elsewhere. They will make up this money by charging more for each non-subsidized home in Downtown Columbia. Thus, in order to make homes more affordable for some, you make homes less affordable for most.

With all the entitlements being doled out in Washington, I think we in Columbia need to be very wary of our local government setting up another entitlement program. The homes in Downtown Columbia should not be set up as low-income entitlement housing.

Anonymous said...

Trevor: very well said.

Anonymous said...

People people! Hold on here.

The cost of increasing residential density is NEVER offset by real estate taxes! TAXPAYERS pay for the infrastructure, Trevor. WE PAY, not the developer. The 'county' doesn't make money, it increases OUR TAXES.

Sarah, that is why I said "redistribution through the state". The state level can affect change.

Come on people. READ.

Lou said...

Cut teacher salaries? Are you insane?! Teacher salaries should never, ever be cut. Why should my child suffer because teachers aren't paid well in another county? That's just lunacy.

Trevor said...

Anon 10:52,

I appreciate your comment, but the way I see it houses that are worth more will pay a higher real estate tax to the county. No matter what type of houses are built (expensive or inexpensive) you will need the same roads, the same sewers, and a similar amount of county employees to regulate everything. So, the cost to the county is similar no matter if there are inexpensive or expensive homes. (In fact, since lower income housing is likely to house more children, it will probably be more expensive than high income housing for the county, as the county will have to pay several million a year for the kids' educations.) If there is more tax revenue from more expensive housing, and a similar amount of expenditures regardless of the type of housing, then simple math states that the county will have less expenditures and more income from the higher cost housing. This increase in income to the county can be offset by a tax decrease to all the other homeowners in the county.

Anonymous said...

You can lead a man to info but you cannot make him think.

Sarah said...

Anon 10:52 : I read what you said-- I'm just saying it's not going to happen so folks work with what they have. How on earth would that get through any vote at the state level? No politician will support that. "Affordable housing proponents" are not going to push for something politically unrealistic.

Trevor: The article stated that this affordable housing will be rentals.

Trevor said...


Thanks for pointing out that the homes are rentals. It really doesn't matter that the homes are rentals though. No matter who lives there, someone owns the house (individual property owners, or large property management corporations). The owner still has to pay taxes to the county. The owner will pay less taxes if the homes are built to be "affordable." The main point I am trying to get across is that there is an abundant amount of housing in Columbia for people of lesser means, and to force housing to be less expensive for a small group in Downtown Columbia, housing is going to be more expensive and less affordable county wide.

Anonymous said...

The county needs as much tax money as they can get. They have to pay for Ken Ulman's personal driver and his bodyguard.

hecker.org said...

Sorry for coming late to the party, I've been out of town and didn't see this post until now. Two quick points:

First, the comment that "Columbia currently contains more than half the affordable housing in Howard County" is meaningless in isolation. The question is, how much of the *total* housing in Howard County is in Columbia? Only after we know that figure can we know whether Columbia contains more than its fair share of affordable housing. Does anyone know the answer, or can point me to where this might be discussed?

Second, per the latest (2008) Census estimates, about 13% of Howard County households have household income less than $40K (est. 12,596 households out of an est. total 99,665 households), and another 13% have household income between $40K and $60K (est. 13,347 out of 99,665).

I'll let others comment on the feasibility or desirability of the proposal to reserve 10% of Town Center units for households under $40K and another 10% for households between $40K and $60K. However I *can* say that the proposal would not cause households in those income ranges to be over-represented in Town Center housing, since those households comprise about 26% of Howard County total households but would have no more than 20% of units reserved for them.

Tom said...

All of you "low income housing experts" should read the independent task force report that was done for Jim Robey's administration just before he left office.
The need for low income housing in this County will never be met even with the maximum number unit in downtown Columbia and the Routes 1 & 40 developments. Realistically the low income housing needs to be in the more populated. Therefore, Western Howard County gets a free pass of not having the low income units built in their neighborhoods. This is very real problem and it goes way beyond teachers, police and firemen.
PS Most of those 2,300 units are already accounted for.

Av said...

While Councilman Trevor has some good points, I disagree with the premise that poor people housing only benefits poor people. Anyone who went through public school in Columbia should recognize the intrinsic value of diversity (racial, socioeconomic, religious, etc). HoCo students have the unique opportunity to make friends with rick kids, poor kids, black kid, white kids, etc. I would say that Rouse would probably agree that this type of diversity and lack of segregation benefits everyone, and supersedes the possible loss to county taxes.

wordbones said...

Councilman Trevor?

Anonymous said...

My name is David Yungmann. A statement I made is in the first paragrpah of this article. I'd like to add some facts to the discussion.

1. Columbia currently has approx. 1/3 of the COunty's population and 62% of the affordable housing. I agree that it's important to know the relative amount, which, in this case, only furthers the point that trying to solve the County's affordable housing needs in a single 300-acre development make zero sense.

2. The 5,500 units is NET. The comment that GGP has approval for 2,300 units in downtown Columbia already is incorrect. GGP is foregoing ALL OF ITS DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS in downtown and rolling it all into this plan (that includes the dozen-plus office building sites it could start tomorrow).

3. Smart development DOES MAKE MONEY for the County. Even poor sprawl development contributes, but not nearly as much as high-density, mixed use smart development as this downtown plan. The highest profit margins to the County will come from development like this. Anyone who thinks HoCo has built its last house and will stop growing is silly, so let's change the way we look at development and put it in a smart growth model that works.

4. The housing in this model are primarily owned units, not rentals.

Now for my opinion....

1. Columbia has an image problem already, with most folks outside Columbia seeing it as a haven of low income housing. While the numbers suggest that it is over-alloted with such housing, it's hardly what some folks envision. Nonetheless, for the new downtown to succeed in attracting the best employers, shops, restaurants and residents, we need to get away from this image of it being full of affordable housing.

2. In addition to the 850 new affordable units that will be created under the 15% proposed by GGP, the Company will be provising tens of millions of dollars in community enhancements and amenities, including a complete rehab of Merriweather (then donating it to a non-profit), restoration of the CA-neglected wetlands and open spaces, a transit center, dozens of gathering places and a whole network of paths, bridges and other connections to improve walkabiluty and bikeability. The contribution by GGP into these things on top of the affordable housing is unprecedented.

3. We are fortunate to have a motivated private company to partner with the public sector (County) to create such a terrific new city. There is no way the County could pull this off on its own and it's time to get all the little special interest hands out of GGP's pockets and let this increadible opportunity for HoCo move forward.

Anonymous said...

Oh, we taxpayers will pay, and pay big. Is GGP proposing putting in roads, extensive sewer and water, Fire Houses, Police stations and the salaries that go with them? Are they building and staffing schools?

Taxpayers will subsidize an generous portion of 10-15,000 new residents in one single village center, not to mention the other 9 villages that will soon follow suit.

Anonymous said...

First, I would like to thank Dave Youngmann for posting both his facts and his opinions. Few others in this debate have been willing to look beyond the rhetoric. It is refreshing to see such a thoughtful response. Second, for those who insist that any development will cost them in taxes, I would invite them to review both the Economic Impact analysis that was performed for the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the Fiscal Impact Analysis that was performed for Howard County Government. Both are available on the County's webside, I believe. In any case, both reports show substantial benefits for County taxpayers. And, if even if you still believe that such growth will cost Howard County taxpayers, please remember two final points: (1) growth is going to happen anyway in Howard County and (2) that growth with not incorporate the "smart growth" planning options included in the downtown Columbia plan, so it most likely will cost taxpayers more.

Anonymous said...

It always kills me when some pompous a$$ posts support for someone they agree with, starting the comment by dissing everyone else as though inferior. When you look at the actual facts, the pompous a$$ is completely off target, making up crap like they're claiming others do.