Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Moving Goal Posts alert...

I’m not really sure how I feel about this proposal.

A plan to construct age-restricted housing units in Woodbine has ignited concern and, in some instances, opposition from nearby homeowners. The property is located roughly a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of Old Frederick Road and Woodbine Road and adjacent to the Lisbon Center shopping complex.

An ownership group, which includes developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. and attorney Richard B. Talkin, has proposed constructing 20 units. Planned are five structures, each designed to resemble a large single-family home, and would be restricted to people who are at least 55.

The structures would have a maximum of 5,000 square feet, and each unit within them probably would cost $300,000 to $400,000, Reuwer, president of Land Design & Development Inc., told a gathering of Woodbine residents Thursday night.
Here’s a picture of the multi-unit houses they’re talking about. That one's from Fairfax County and, I believe, contains four units.


I’ve seen houses like this before and I generally think they’re a good way of creating affordable housing in the land of McMansions. But, I’m not sure this is the right place for such housing, particularly considering how far removed from the county’s base of services this area is. So, in that sense, I’m agreeing with the local residents.

What I find most interesting and the reason for the title of this post is this quote:
"You can't buy a house out here for $300,000-$400,000," Sheldon told Reuwer. "We don't want low-income housing out here."
Housing in the $300,000-$400,000 range is now considered “low-income?” Cripes, I must be living in poverty.

And, speaking of affordable housing and moving targets, the task force charged with studying the issue released its report. I’m waiting to actually see the report before commenting with any real substance, but the following excerpt from this story is certainly relevant to the broader point of this post:
The group focused its efforts on households making 110 percent of the median income, or about $100,300.

They chose that income level because it was around the lowest level to afford the average cost of housing in the county, said Leonard Vaughan, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Does that mean we write off those earning less, tell they don’t have a chance to live here anyway? How far to we push the goal posts back before we realize that housing and incomes in our county are so out of balance that something dramatic, something bold must be done to correct the situation? Are we there yet?

If people earning $100,000 are having so much trouble finding housing, I’d say yes.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, they're proposing essentially five four-unit townhouses, each residence comprising a corner of the row instead of a through slice. New townhouses at that price range, albeit just 1250 sq. ft. each, in a nice neighborhood, seems to fit going market rates for the county.

If the "conditional-use" allowance of the current general commercial zoning for the lot does allow residential density sufficient for five four-unit townhouse rows, then it seems ok. It seems wrong to me, however, that the burden of proof is put on the neighbors to demonstrate this use doesn't fit. I think the burden of proof should be put on those seeking a conditional-use permit. Maybe one more thing to be improved in our zoning and development regulations?

That 55+ plus housing gets a pass on APFO school requirements, however, seems to be another shortcoming. The good folks who'll move into these homes will be vacating housing elsewhere in the county that will then be occupied by others, sometimes families with school age children. So, these new homes will indeed increase school populations, just indirectly.

Should new 55+ housing then get a pass on APFO protections when new housing for the general population doesn't? Maybe the county should spend a little more on age-in-place programs instead of continuing this APFO loophole which then indirectly causes the county to continue spending on accelerated school construction.

Regarding affordable housing, have you yet familiarized yourself with the Tragedy of the Commons? Howard County can only support a finite population. Sacrifices are made continuously (congestion, pollution, school overcrowding, loss of greenspace) as the population grows.

External factors significantly contribute to the county's affordable housing problem. If issues were solved elsewhere - social, economic, and geopolitical, less population would migrate to this county. How much would people swimming away from the Titanic pay for steerage on a passing ship?

Artificial internal causes exist as well. Should we still be aggressively funding (with our tax dollars) attracting more business and more population to the county?

Hayduke said...

That 55+ plus housing gets a pass on APFO school requirements, however, seems to be another shortcoming. The good folks who'll move into these homes will be vacating housing elsewhere in the county that will then be occupied by others, sometimes families with school age children. So, these new homes will indeed increase school populations, just indirectly.

Should new 55+ housing then get a pass on APFO protections when new housing for the general population doesn't? Maybe the county should spend a little more on age-in-place programs instead of continuing this APFO loophole which then indirectly causes the county to continue spending on accelerated school construction.


And some will move to places like Florida, Arizona or West Virginia. What’s more, some 55+ folks will move here from other places. And still, more families (or perhaps, children of existing families) will continue to move here.

Sure, 55+ housing has an indirect effect on school populations, but trying to quantify it is likely impossible. Without some sort of foundation in concrete fact, a school APFO requirement would be arbitrary and capricious, making it susceptible to legal challenges.

I’m sensing from you some of the same lamentations about families and their attendant costs used to justify the passing of the recent senior tax cut. As a young person who plans on shortly making babies and burdening our already over-burdened (but best in the state!) school system, that kind of talk is a little frustrating and insulting.


Regarding affordable housing, have you yet familiarized yourself with the Tragedy of the Commons? Howard County can only support a finite population. Sacrifices are made continuously (congestion, pollution, school overcrowding, loss of greenspace) as the population grows.

Yes. But I’m having troubling see how TotC relates to Howard County? What is the “common” that we’re destroying by overuse? Our collective quality of life? Our land? Since all of the land in Howard County is privately held, I’m not sure how it would qualify as a common. Unless you’re implying that people don’t really own the land, just the rights to it. In which case, TotC still doesn’t apply because a common by definition is a communally owned area with open access.

Your point about our county supporting a finite population is not true. If it were, Howard County would already have collapsed from overpopulation. We do not rely exclusively on the resources of our county to exist. Our energy comes from power plants in other areas of the state, which derive energy from natural gas, coal, water and other sources from further environs. Our diet is made up almost exclusively of food grown and raised in Square States. And much of our labor force that supports the quality of life we enjoy lives elsewhere. Finally, what about our drinking water?

OK, so I’m being a little less than totally serious. But the truth is that we’re not reliant on the land in Howard County to support anyone, aside from in the most literal sense, though the land has intrinsic value and it needs to maintain ecological integrity if we ever hope to have a clean Bay.

External factors significantly contribute to the county's affordable housing problem. If issues were solved elsewhere - social, economic, and geopolitical, less population would migrate to this county. How much would people swimming away from the Titanic pay for steerage on a passing ship?

We can only control what we can control in HoCo, and as great as a steady-state world would be, no amount of local blogging on my part will make that happen. We work with the external forces we have, not the one’s we hope to have. To be sure, many fine folks are working to change some of these external factors (including myself), but some of them may never change, which is something we have to consider.

Anonymous said...

How are these houses "affordable"? Aren't they about the same value for existing townhome resales?

Anonymous said...

"Sure, 55+ housing has an indirect effect on school populations, but trying to quantify it is likely impossible. Without some sort of foundation in concrete fact, a school APFO requirement would be arbitrary and capricious, making it susceptible to legal challenges."

What I described, 55+ folks in the county moving to 55+ housing in the county and their previous homes then occupied by families with school-aged children, does occur. I have seen it personally. Verifying it the rate of occurrence is very possible (and trivial timewise for that matter), starting with public record land records of the 55+ zoned housing, doing a cross check against land transactions of near-timed non-55+ zoned housing transactions by the same owners, and then cross checking those properties with the schools' attendance data. Two databases, three questions. Done.

"I’m sensing from you some of the same lamentations about families and their attendant costs used to justify the passing of the recent senior tax cut. As a young person who plans on shortly making babies and burdening our already over-burdened (but best in the state!) school system, that kind of talk is a little frustrating and insulting."

Insulting to expect that development standards be applied more uniformly relative to their impact on the community?

Did you ever think about it from the viewpoint that exempting 55+ housing from APFO also means it tilts developers, because they don't have to wait to pass GO, towards building new housing that young families aren't allowed to buy? Seems equivalent to pre-equal housing laws to me.

If 55+ housing does have indirect school crowding effects, then all this APFO exemption does is provide developers a loophole to build quickly and legalize discriminating against some families based on age.

As for the senior tax cut, wasn't that, too, an affordable housing issue, focusing on existing homeowners on fixed incomes instead of those seeking homes?

"What is the “common” that we’re destroying by overuse?"

The air near here at times has some of the highest ground-level ozone in the country, due to growing industrial and transportation sources.

Greenspace, even 'protected' wetlands, streams, and their buffers, continue to be developed and be segmented, despite multiple General Plans stating it's a priority to reverse the trend.

Similarly, wildlife habitat, too, dwindles, our non-contiguous parks becoming uncertain refuges where mobility-deprived populations are 'managed' by amateur hunters that have repeatedly caused unnecessary inhumane demises.

Light pollution and noise pollution continue to worsen. Yes, I consider seeing the stars at night and hearing either quiet or natural sounds to both be resources.

Even in cases where open space and rights-of-way have been set aside for the public, growth has still managed to transgress there, too, as when CA sacrificed open stores so village centers' grocery stores could expand into superstores and when CA gave a permanent paved easement across a substantial swath of CA right-of-way meant for pedestrian travel. Some of the proposed plans for Town Center include additional sacrifices of CA open space.

The Bay continues to degrade as a result of population growth in its watershed causing additional runoff, nitrogen infiltration, and sewage effluent. It is not an infinite capacity toilet.

Other than the western county's well users, the rest of the county is dependent on the finite supply of water coming from Baltimore City's reservoirs, which support the City and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties, too.

The ability to move unfettered from point A to point B, human transhumance if you will, is yet another 'common' that is being consumed as the population grows.

Hayduke said...

Insulting to expect that development standards be applied more uniformly relative to their impact on the community?

No, insulting to think that the net worth of a family to a community is reduced to their impact on school costs.

In a free society, people are allowed to move at will. If these 55+ houses don’t get built, it just means seniors will move somewhere else and families will still move in.

I share your concerns about the environment and have written about some of them in the past. But I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, in the comments section of a post about senior/affordable housing. Yes, global population growth is straining our natural resources. But short of overly-restrictive China-like interventions, what do we do to stop it? And as long as Maryland is a great place to live, the problems of growth are going to impact us, regardless of whether we allow growth in HoCo or not.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing. The report seems to indicate there is a need for affordable housing in Howard County. That need is not only for public service workers and minimum wage workers who live in Howard County, but also for BRAC workers who will work outside of the County. We have limited capital resources to subsidize affordable housing. Where do our tax dollars belong? Firefighter? Secretary? BRAC worker? We can't possibly pay for or provide it for all... but no one seems to indicate that a priority system has been established.

The report talks about increasing building allotments for affordable housing. Of course it does. Builders and developers want the ability to create more housing. Did we look at the potential of keeping the allocation cap in place but requiring it to all be affordable instead of market rate housing? Why didn't we? We'd build the affordable housing that we needed, our infrastructure could support it because its part of the planned allocations (well "support" is a little subjective).

Now assuming that have identified who we are building for and how much we can spend and how much density we can afford to still reach our environmental goals... we have to decide HOW to build it. Dense high rise projects that are economically segregated? Rental units or units for fee simple? Because the laws governing the development of affordable housing are ambiguous in terms of density and height restrictions and county approval and public process... These are all legitimate concerns that are being raised. People who believe in affordable housing are questioning the process that has been put in place to obtain it...

Bring daylight into the process. Make the zoning regs for affordable housing be the same as for regular housing. Require a public process with Council approval. This stealth approach is a terrible approach to fulfilling our needs. It is backfiring big time. The Housing Commission has way too much power in this process.

Anonymous said...

Who reduced a family's net worth to their impact on school costs? My point was APFO laws, meant to prevent school overcrowding, aren't being applied to all development that can cause school overcrowding. That being the case, APFO laws should apply to all development.

Not having followed the senior tax cut issue closely, I can't address the 'lamentations' to which you referred.

In a post about senior housing/affordable housing, discussing their effects on the community and the environment are certainly relevant. Maintaining an APFO-exempting loophole for senior housing accelerates development, hastening the pace at which our environment is impacted. And, I could be wrong, but you seem to often advocate density increases here as a means to address affordable housing. Such density increases, too, would adversely impact the environment.

You also covered senior housing/affordable housing in Banana pancakes, which discusses growth, its effects, and other options, too.

"Yes, global population growth is straining our natural resources. But short of overly-restrictive China-like interventions, what do we do to stop it?"

Many Western European countries are great places to live, too. Many (not all) of those countries are experiencing population declines, despite having higher standards of living and longer average lifespans than here. What draconian measures are they using to impose such population declines? None. So, it is possible to maintain both a great place to live and a stable population.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Anonymous,

I hope you keep on top of Hayduke and all of his inconsistencies. It takes the pressure off of me.

Hayduke - I find it very amusing that you try to paint Anon's ideas as arbitrary and capricious. Many of your recommendations and ideas are exactly that. Like, your constant notion that zoning should open and for the people to decide.
It's fine if you want the people to have a say in what the laws should be and change the laws accordingly, but once the laws are set, then there can't be hearings and so on where people can block a plan simply because they don't like it or they want the design changed to meet their preferences. This is exactly the dilemma that goes on now. DPZ reviewers review a plan and determine that it complies with the laws, then a few neighbors that don't want anything built next door file appeals, and the battles begin. You have advocated for "aesthetic guidelines" and design "guidelines". Nothing could be more arbitrary and capricious than "guidelines".

Anonymous said...

Tom,

I think you're oversimplifying why hearings are allowed on developments that have passed a particular stage of review by DPZ. Here's my stab at an oversimplified clarification: DPZ staff can (and has and will again) make mistakes against which the community still deserves protection.

The plan submission and review process is extremely information intensive and, like everyone else, DPZ can (and does) make mistakes and can overlook nonconforming design data during the review process. Also, they rely on correct and complete information being received from many sources - the developer, other agencies and governments, paid experts, and county records.

Even when neighbors do take the time to repeatedly visit DPZ to review plans and submit found design nonconformances to DPZ, mistakes can still be (and have been) made.

To the community's benefit, instead of having to essentially do design reviews in parallel, the community can assume DPZ will do a thorough and 100% correct review. If a plan does get approved in error, the public has 30 days to file an appeal. Unfortunately, when neighbors do have to resort to an appeal when a plan is wrong, they are required to pay a hefty fee to do so. Paying a fee to correct someone else's mistake(s) should be abolished.

And, its not just DPZ that makes these mistakes. There's all kinds of (ahem) mistakes that can appear on required reports by experts (paid by the developer) - land surveys, traffic studies, soil reports, wetland studies, etc.

Courtney Watson suggested requiring developers obtain required traffic studies via paying the County and the County then hiring and paying the expert. That would certainly increase the likelihood experts' interests remained truly devoted to the community.

I hope Courtney Watson's proposal is put into effect and also applied to how other experts (soil, wetland, forest studies) are hired and paid, too.

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