Friday, June 30, 2006

Who am I?

I found myself asking that question this morning after reading this:

Two candidates for the Howard County state delegation called for more local housing, while another said no to more newcomers as the county braces for the job explosion at Fort Meade.

Howard County has a limit of 1,750 new residential units per year. Pressure from the relocation of 5,300 defense jobs to Fort Meade because of the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative could create an increased demand — and price tag — for these houses.

“We should loosen up” the limit, said Del. Gail Bates, R-District 13, at a candidates’ forum Wednesday. “As demand increases, our homes are going to be less affordable.”

The average new house in Howard County is $650,000.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, D-District 12B, said increasing housing is not the answer.

“Are we saying we want as many people as possible to move to Howard County? That would be a mistake,” Bobo said. “As people move here, schools will be a big social issue.”
Judging from what I've said in the past about affordable housing, my views seem more in line with (gasp!) the Republicans than my own party (at least according to this two person sample, anyway). Couple this with the fact that I'm sounding like Steve Forbes and my whole perspective on the world has just been turned upside down.

Seriously, I'm sure Bobo has ideas about how to create more affordable housing in Howard County, but the Examiner's stories, which are more like blurbs, rarely provide the opportunity for one to expand on the nuances of an issue. That said, Democrats definitely need to do a better job of providing ideas for affordable housing, which is component of what should be one of our party's core principles -- namely, ensuring help is there for those who need it most.

We must not abandon this principle -- even at the local level -- for the sake of expedience.


Anonymous said...

Liz Bobo's quoted question, "Are we saying we want as many people as possible to move to Howard County?" parallels some I posed a few days ago, "So, how many people do you think should live in Howard County? Do we need to be as congested as the counties surrounding DC?"

Very disturbing, however is the article's beginning paragraph's odd representation of Liz Bobo's position, claiming she "said no to more newcomers". Where in her comments they quoted did she say anything like that?

Democrats have provided some affordable housing solutions - one being the creation of transportation-oriented zoning districts, basically allowing higher density zoning along existing transportation corridors. Both the Route 1 and Route 40 Revitalization Plans change some previously solely commercially zoned lots to lots that can have businesses on the first couple floors and residences above. And being located close to transportation (and businesses), should make these potential residences all the more affordable.
The Examiner says the average new home price in Howard County is $650,000. So what? Shiny, new, and big is a luxury. They fail to mention the average home price (which includes existing home sales) in Howard County in 2005 was considerably less - $384,000.

Want to save $70k? Anne Arundel County's average cost - $314,900.
Or save $80k? Frederick County's average cost - $306,000.
Or save $100k? P.G. County's average cost - $287,000.
(Montgomery, D.C., and No. VA were all more expensive than here.)
Or save $165k? Suburban Maryland condos averaged $210,000.
Does it seem the Examiner was trying to make the housing cost issue look worse than it was and to paint Liz as poorly as possible?
IRS and Maryland data shows a lot of D.C. folks are moving this way. That makes sense:
Montgomery County's average 2005 home price - $435,000
DC's - $412,000
No. VA's - $491,000

And, Montgomery County is building like crazy - as many homes were built there last year as in Calvert, Charles, Frederick and Howard combined. Yet, their home prices continue to outpace Howard's. Seems like a good argument that relaxing land use regulations to slow home price increases doesn't work all that well.

Maryland ranks fourth highest among states for per capita amount received from federal spending. DC is #1 and Virginia is #3. These numbers correlate well with the previous home price numbers.

Hayduke said...

I don't think the Examiner was trying to "paint Liz as poorly as possible." I think what was said is more a product of the paper's format, 350 - 400 word stories that leave no room for nuance. And, what's more important to the reporter, is showing disagreement/controversy.

You're correct that Democrats have done things to increase affordable housing, including several Comp Lite rezonings along Rts. 1 and 40 that are now targets of many people's -- including Democrats -- ire.

Other than these zoning districts, however, the Democrats can't really say they're making a world of difference. Didn't Robey recently say the biggest failure of his adminstration was not doing something more for affordable housing?

Meanwhile, it may be pedantic, but when describing housing prices you meant to say median and not average. The $650,000 for a new house is average and the $385,000 is median for all houses. The difference is that average numbers are going to be skewed upwards by outliers -- homes selling for over $1 million, say. That our average new home price is almost double median shows that, despite our Democrats new zoning districts, the new homes being sold in Howard County are predominately for those in an income class that most of use will never reside in.

How much does one need to make annually to afford a $650,000 house? Something like $220,000? Median family income in HoCo is around $85,000, meaning the top a median family could reasonably afford is, what, $255,000, incidentally, the amount I just spent on my house, and yes, it's the most we could afford). $385,000 may be considerably less, but it's is no more attainable for the majority of people living in Howard County.

I couldn't care less that housing is cheaper in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, PG, Frederick or wherever. Having people who work in Howard live somewhere else is not an ideal or even preffered solution for affordable housing. It causes more traffic (see I-70) and is not in line with what I think are values our community shares -- inclusion, acceptance, diversity. I don't want to mischaracterize what you say, but this seems to be a ongoing suggestion of yours.

I'm guessing, however, that you already own a house and therefore the struggles many -- including me and most of my friends, almost all of whom moved to one of these more "affordable" counties -- face in trying to live in the community that most identify with or grew up in are probably foreign to you and most other current homeowners. And I'm not talking about "poor" or "low-income" people, either. Thousands of professionals earning wages that in most other communities in this country would afford them the opportunity for the picket-fenced American Dream are being turned away from Howard County each year because of our failure to address the affordable housing issue. Yet, somehow, we find room for the "shiny, big and new" luxury housing. I'm not saying more growth is the answer, but our priorities seem somewhat out of line -- or at least moderately contradictory.

Finally, Montgomery County's housing prices may be higher than Howard's, but the growth in prices over the last year was not. From the Post article you linked to: "In fact, [MoCo] had the second-lowest rate of appreciation in the region for houses and townhouses compared with the previous year." Your suggestion that "relaxing land use regulations to slow home price increases doesn't work all that well" is unsubstantiated.

hocomb said...

Hayduke, I agree that Howard County is very good at importing workers from surrounding jurisdictions and exporting white collar jobs to those same jurisdictions.

While the tax effect may be minimal I think it is characteristic of a growing dilema. If we import workers from say Baltimore City then we are exporting income tax dollars to Baltimore City too.

The demand for housing and the profits are so great it outpaces Howard County development of business property. I am not talking about commercial retail space.

We need to do a better job of attracting and retaining business in Howard County so that their is less of a dependence on individual property and income taxes (our two largest revenue streams).

Look at the Rt 29 corridor. Past Johns Hopkins it is a rural paradise. Why is that corridor not being used to attract business development. If a light rail or metro line ever comes to Howard County I think it will follow that corridor. But that is years and years away.

The Rt 100 corridor between 29 and Rt 1 are also ideal for business development.

We are in the middle of Maryland's golden triangle (Balt, DC, and Frederick) and we need to capitalize on that.

What does the State and County do to attract businesses here (although the General Assembly does a lot to make MD seem unfriendly to businesses).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for catching my median/average error.

The struggles you, your friends, and many others are facing/have faced are not at all foreign to me. That said, I have enjoyed many blessings in life, and count among them the privilege of calling Howard County home.

Existing homeowners are certainly counting their blessings relative to soaring home prices, but don't forget the much higher home loan rates many endured for decades prior. Wasn't it during those times that the Rouse Co. went to the County and asked for higher density housing (more townhouses and apartments?) in Columbia because the original zoning plan's mix of housing was too expensive considering the interest rates and inflation?

"...the new homes being sold in Howard County are predominately for those in an income class that most of use will never reside in." - Replace "Howard County" with "Columbia" and this could just have easily been said by an existing resident of Howard County in the '60's. Columbia homes were considered expensive at the time and those who couldn't afford it but worked there had to commute from elsewhere.

What's so important about having a new home vs. an existing home? Last time I checked, the Queen of England doesn't live in a new house either. Personally, I'd much rather have a home in an established neighborhood with mature trees, plants, etc. than be in a home where the land had just been stripped bare to fit as many houses as possible.

Howard County, having no trouble attracting business, is seeing businesses and population pour in, causing increased competition for real estate which causes real estate prices to increase. Adding BRAC and more immigration and those fleeing DC's home prices on top of that only fuels the competition for available real estate.

"Thousands of professionals earning wages that in most other communities in this country would afford them the opportunity for the picket-fenced American Dream are being turned away from Howard County each year because of our failure to address the affordable housing issue." - How many professionals can buy a picket-fenced home in New York City? The megalopolis of BosWash is going to swallow us all. I, too, have been to parts of the country where home prices are much, much less (and a few where they are more).

I agree affordable housing does need more help. Diversified housing was built into Columbia's original plan, but now that Columbia's buildout is pretty much complete, it is an issue.

Again, yes it is an ongoing suggestion - I'll say part of the solution is getting on with developing and deploying 21st century Personal Rapid Transit. Smart growth says build on already developed land to preserve greenspace. Baltimore has vacant housing and shrank populationwise while Howard County exploded. PRT will allow clean, quick commutes between here and there that would be faster than a car commute from River Hill to Columbia Gateway. Isn't that inclusive? Isn't providing poor city folk economical and convenient access to the exurban economy and jobmarket being inclusive? Or should commutes to decent paying jobs be reserved only for those who can afford cars, insurance, and $3/gallon gas? I agree, ideally, we should all be able to walk to work, but reality just isn't that nice.

And I'm not advocating PRT soley relative to affordable housing. There's many, many other reasons why we should. It will save all of us money (much less $ than light rail to build) and time (faster than cars), less pollution, less roadkill, provide safer and faster tranport, allow our aging populating to enjoy lengthened autonomy, eliminate road rage, etc.

Part of the solution is to require set asides for larger developments to ensure a certain percentage is affordable housing. Wasn't some of Columbia required to have such set asides or forego FHA loan eligibility for the non-set-aside homes?

Part of the solution may be the denser transportation oriented development zoning. It will be a windfall for the commercial property owners affected, but it could offer some relief. (Ironically, around DC, housing near public transit is more expensive.)

mary smith said...

Take a breath of patience, and educate me, a non-republican.

As I recall, I chose my field of work, I decided my major in college (in fact, I decided to put myself through), I decided when to change jobs for higher pay, I decided where to work, I decided my priorities in life relative to sacrifices for choosing a lucrative field. Through years of choices, I gained more options. Don't we spend years making the decisions that lead each of us to the place where we live?

This is not Soviet Russia. We decide.

At a HC library yesterday, the librarian was complaining that she doesn't live in Howard, she just works here. Well, I would have loved to be a librarian, but salary considerations took priority. For her, the nature of the job was the priority.

What are you talking about in this string? Is everyone born with the right to ask the government to provide them a space in any location of their choosing?

Educate me.

mary smith said...

I gotta start reading these prior to submittal. I would have loved to have been a librarian, or, I would love to be a librarian. Oy.

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