Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mixed news for low-income housing...

First, the bad: A program that helps low-income families avoid eviction is almost broke.

As Howard County readies plans for a new homeless shelter and the third church-based winter shelter program ends, anti-poverty officials say they are running out of emergency housing funds.

James B. Smith, director of the quasi-governmental Community Action Council, said his agency spent all $138,410 allotted for eviction prevention and nearly all of another $13,488 from private donations intended to help the working poor survive unanticipated bills that could result in eviction.

The agency received an additional $20,000 from the Howard County government and the Horizon Foundation several weeks ago, but Smith said that likely will run out before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Getting additional money probably won't be a problem -- at least it shouldn't be. With budgetary surpluses and the relatively low level of funding required to keep this program solvent, I'm sure we can scrounge together a few thousands dollars to provide this obviously necessary service for the next few months.

But that's not the problem. The problem is this program's popularity. The fact that it is out of money speaks to how much these emergency grants are really needed, and how much this need is growing. Fortunately, the county is expanding it's homeless shelter, but with increases in the cost of living vastly outpacing wage growth, this year's funding shortfall is likely to be repeated again in coming years.

Now, the good news.
To help lower-income working families, construction is starting on an $11 million, 84-unit apartment complex off U.S. 1 in Elkridge - the first new, subsidized units in the county in years.

Called Port Capital Village, the eight-building complex will offer two- and three-bedroom units for rents ranging from $528 to $975 a month, based on income. The units are intended for families earning between $20,000 and $45,000 a year.

Although this project will create more affordable housing opportunities, the overall impact it will have on the increasingly difficult situation is minimal, especially considering these are the first new units built in several years.

Because it is impossible for me to give unconditional praise to anything, I'd rather see affordable housing integrated in larger, mixed income communities/developments, instead of concentrating them in certain areas. Many residents of the Route 1 corridor see themselves -- rightly or wrongly -- as having to bear the brunt of our affordable housing development. The last thing we need to do is foster stigmas for particular ZIP Codes.

Finally, I want to thank Sun reporter Larry Carson (or his editors) for all of his writing on low-income housing. Both of the stories I linked to today were written by Carson, and though I know this is probably his beat anyway, the amount of coverage he gives to this issue is a real benefit to advocates as it keeps affordable housing on the minds of those who don't care as much, which is one way to perhaps make them care more.

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