Howard County Unveils Plan To Boost Affordable Housing

    Howard County Executive Calvin B. Ball III (D) unveiled a plan to make housing more affordable for tenants and homeowners alike Tuesday, including a proposed $5 million in seed funding to help kick off the county’s affordable housing effort.

    Howard County’s Housing Opportunities Master Plan – the county’s first master plan for housing needs in more than a decade – involves three overarching strategies to make housing more accessible and affordable, Ball said at a Tuesday press conference. Those strategies include:

    • Revamping the county’s land use, planning and zoning regulations to improve “availability, accessibility, affordability and diversity of housing stock.” That will mean making mixed-use neighborhoods and developments easier to build in the county and streamlining development, according to the master plan.
    • Providing more resources to the county’s existing housing programs and creating new ones to boost housing stability and capacity.
    • Balancing housing and infrastructure needs in the county to ensure that “neither form of demand eclipses the other.” That will mean revising the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), a growth management ordinance that directs new development to areas of the county where “adequate infrastructure exists or will exist,” according to the county website. According to the master plan, the APFO is “placing significant limitations on the amount of housing that can be built.”

    Ball’s $5 million in funding would go toward a trust fund aimed at boosting the number of income-restricted rental and homeownership units in the county. Howard County Council member Christiana M. Rigby (D-Dist. 3) said Tuesday that the council will vote on that funding next week.

    Howard County is an expensive place to live, and affordable housing is in short supply. Rigby said the median price of homes sold in the county in April was roughly $500,000 and the average rent was more than $1,700 a month.

    Ball said most housing for sale in Howard County is not affordable to households making less than 120% of the county’s area median income.

    “For so many who want to call Howard County home, living here is simply out of reach,” Rigby said. “This is due in no small part to the land use and housing policies our county is currently operating under.”

    She added that the plan and its proposed reforms have been a “long time coming.” The plan and its slew of recommendations is the work of a task force that Ball commissioned in late 2019. Ball said the task force delivered the master plan on time, working through the pandemic to do so.

    Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Baltimore counties), a co-chair of the Howard County delegation, said he hopes the master plan will be the start of a long-term push to make housing more accessible in the county, and added that the pandemic has underscored the need for affordable housing.

    “We want folks who work here, who play here and who serve our residents here to also have the opportunity to live here,” Lam said.

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    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.