Saturday, February 26, 2011

Living Easy in the HoCo

Howard County is a really pretty place to live, the schools are excellent, the population is wonderfully ethnically diverse, there is too much snow for my taste and homes are really expensive, er, valuable.

I don't think HoCo is perfect, but honestly, there are so many positives that it really astonishes me when people show such crazy outrage over something like subsidized housing. (Sun article here)  There are plans in the works to demolish the Hilltop housing development (which is 43 years old) and build a new community of mixed-income rental units as well as a new community center.  Concerns about the project include fears for property values, obstructed views and the certainty that the idea of mixed-income housing can't work and will lead to gangbangers and drug-addicts taking over Historic Ellicott City (this was in one of the comments on this article).  There is also concern about whether the new housing will be available to the current residents at the same rates (the deputy housing director assures that they will be).

I do sympathize with those people who are worried about looking out their back windows at a parking garage, but from what I understand from the community meeting held last Wednesday, the developers have that in mind and have plans to build the garage into the hill and add trellises to the roof so that it isn't such an eyesore.  I don't have sympathy for those worried about property values.  The subsidized housing already exists there; it seems to me that a vibrant new community center and new, prettier, mixed-income housing can only help values.

I was doing a little research and I found out that there is a Moderate Income Housing Unit Program in Howard County.  From the website:
Looking for high-quality, yet affordable, housing options in Howard County? Howard County Housing offers new, quality homes and apartments through its Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) Program.
That sentence alone tells me that housing is not affordable in Howard County.

The national median household income (as of 2008) is $52,029.  The median income in Maryland is $70,482 and in Howard County it's $101,867.  Now compare those numbers to what the MIHU chart (below) says is the maximum permitted income to participate in their program.  The national average number of people per household is 2.59 - so really, a giant portion of the nation would qualify for this program if they moved to HoCo. 

It's great that something like this exists in Howard County, but those numbers are really indicative of how affluent our county is and how much of a disconnect there seems to be about what options there are for the truly poor in our county. 

I know there are also concerns about the amount of money that would be spent to build the community center ($15 million) and the project as a whole (around $50 million).  I'll admit to not knowing much about how this falls into our county budget or what it costs to build stuff, but I assume that the Housing Department wouldn't be making these proposals without that information or where they are going to get the money.  And I think the center is important - what I've read about mixed income housing and it's success says that the effort has to be more than just housing, that there has to be other support for the people living there.  I think the revitalized community center would provide some of that - not only for the people in the mixed-income housing, but people in the entire surrounding community (my family included).

The current Roger Carter Center offers the only public pool in the county.  It's a decent pool, it's the only one we've ever used since moving here.  The Center also has an outdoor basketball court, an Early Learning Center preschool (my oldest attended it and my middle daughter goes there now), an after school homework program and there is an exercise room that you can buy passes to.  I'm not sure what classes might be offered there now, but my guess is not many because there isn't really much space.  The new center that was described at the community meeting sounded really exciting - an indoor pool that can be opened to the outdoors during the summer, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, an indoor track, meeting rooms, an exercise room and the preschool will also remain.  I would love to have this place so close to my home!

The fact is, subsidized housing already exists in Historic Ellicott City, it is needed and improving it and the community center, really only seems like a win-win to me. 



  1. Awesome job.

    The comments at that article are awful and just prove the point that mixed-income communities are not just for the benefit of the poor. Yeesh.

  2. Thanks! Yes - the comments on all the Sun articles about this have been pretty appalling.

  3. The HoCo Housing Authority is doing an excellent job with the former Guilford Gardens housing in Columbia. If they do something similar in EC it would be a vast improvement over what exists at Hilltop now. It would be good for the health of the merchants on Main Street as well.

    By the way, nice post.