let6ters to the editor 3/2/01

March 05, 2001

Letters to the Editor 3/2

City should invest in rental apartments for everyone's sake

To the editor:

Bob Maginnis's recent column about the relationship between property values and tax revenue reminds us that a weak community development strategy inflicts pain beyond what it does to those who are condemned to live in decaying housing.

Every household, including those who live in good housing, could see tax rates increased. The editorial describes Hagerstown's inability to encourage the fix-up of the city's 9,300 rental properties as a puzzle that must be solved before a property tax-dependent city budget can be balanced.

A major piece of the puzzle is the odd Hagerstown policy of failing to support the use of state or federal funds to develop new rental housing.


No other city in Maryland ( perhaps the nation) has such a policy. Hagerstown should worry about housing dollars going elsewhere, because competition is still the best way to improve the city's rental stock.

If Hagerstown retrieved some of the state and federal taxes paid by local residents and used them to renovate and build decent and affordable rental housing, all landlords would be pressed to meet the higher standard of rentals that would eventually emerge

Most landlords are not abusive, yet those with a propensity benefit from Hagerstown's anti-rental policy. It provides perfect cover from competition.

There is a reason that the Potomac Street property across from Bester School is a vacant lot today instead of tax-paying apartments.

And there is a reason why the $8 million in apartment projects that Interfaith Housing and our partners are currently building in Washington County are all in a ring outside the Hagerstown city limits.

Our home ownership projects have won national awards and we can speak from experience about the merits of tenants becoming owners/stakeholders.

Yet, we understand that every community has a continuum of housing needs ranging from basic shelter to ownership. Some households should not or cannot be owners. Promoting home ownership is a noble cause. Doing so at the expense of rental housing is a big mistake. A balanced approach is needed.

It might help to begin by depoliticizing housing policy. Ask the next political candidate running on a homeownership-is-the-only-answer platform if he or she is aware that the county with the highest percentage of home ownership, Allegany County, is also the poorest county in Maryland.

Contrary to conventional political wisdom, investing in rental housing may be a key to improving Hagerstown's dismal percentage of home ownership. People are more likely to buy homes in a place where property values are increasing. Hagerstown will not get there by ignoring 60 percent of the housing units in the city.

Can Hagerstown afford to invest more aggressively in housing when service cuts are being discussed as the way to balance the budget?

If we ask the folks who write the checks for a lifetime developmental disability caused by lead paint and the question becomes: Can our society afford the alternative? One solution, removing constraints from non-profit or for-profit investors, is almost free. But real progress will not be made until the city reverses its rental housing investment strategy.

James Upchurch


Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland

Governor, can I get a copy of that list?

To the editor:

Gov Parris Glendenning (in his role as Chair of the National Governor's Associationn) said that Maryland has reduced 28 taxes, saving taxpayers in in the state $2.6 billion. Where can I get a copy of this list that he is using?

Tom Janus


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