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West County Growth

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G. James Benoit

P.O. Box 74
Crownsville, MD 21032

HometownAnnapolis.com - Benoit sees state role in aiding workforce housing - Anne Arundel County lacks the political muster to fix the ongoing workforce housing crunch, and it will take state mandates to solve the problem, Councilman Jamie Benoit said this week.

The solution to a lack of homes within the price range of low- to moderate-income families could come from new state rules that would require a certain percentage of new homes in every county be affordable to families that earn between $50,000 and $100,000 annually.

The county would then be responsible for creating the zoning that meets the state's demands, Mr. Benoit, D-Crownsville, said Monday at a luncheon hosted by Homes for America in Annapolis.

The need for workforce housing will become more pronounced as more jobs move to Fort George G. Meade, Mr. Benoit said. County planners are expecting about 22,000 new jobs at the post by 2014. Many are high-paying jobs, with the average salary approaching six figures.

But affordable housing will be needed most by people attracted to the support jobs the growth at Fort Meade will encourage. People in the service industry and civil servants, such as firefighters and teachers, will drive the demand for affordable local housing, Mr. Benoit said.

Due largely to community group's opposition to lower-priced housing in their neighborhoods, there is a "lack of collective political will" in the county to require developers to build more affordable homes, Mr. Benoit said.

"In the view of many people, affordable housing reduces the value of your home," especially if it is nearby, he said.

But the general development plan, the county's once-a-decade blueprint for new residential and business development, should help, said County Executive John R. Leopold.

"We are going to encourage and provide for land-use designations that would include workforce housing," he said.

The creation of "inclusionary zoning" - a type of land use that requires workforce homes - has been discussed in the past as a solution, but Mr. Leopold said he is not sure if the County Council would support such a measure.

"I know that there are members of the council who are adamantly opposed," but even if passed it would not fully solve the problem, he said.

Zoning is certainly an obstacle to building affordable homes, said Bob Johnston, vice president of government affairs with the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors.

There isn't enough zoning that allows developers to put several homes onto a single acre, he said. By putting more units into a smaller space, developers are able to make more use of land and pass savings along to the future owner, Mr. Johnston said.

Additionally, the county could wave impact fees - payments to offset the strain on roads, utilities and schools - that new buildings face. The developer can pass that savings on to the future homeowner, as well, he said.

"There is a lot of things we could do, it's just a matter of getting it accomplished," Mr. Johnston said.

That leaves the general development plan as the primary way to address the need for workforce housing. Ideally it will do two things: put workforce housing near transportation hubs, such as rail stations, and revitalize older communities. This should help calm existing communities' worries about the effects of new development, Mr. Leopold said.

There are initiatives in the Anne Arundel Community Development Services that address workforce housing needs. It could be worthwhile to fast-track some of the most promising projects, Mr. Leopold said.

Additionally, while it won't change listing costs, programs that increase spending power by covering closing costs, or providing below market interest rates could help put families in homes, he said.

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