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Public housing concerns are aired at city council meeting

January 08, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The head of the Hagerstown Housing Authority met with the Hagerstown City Council Tuesday to answer questions about public housing and rebut claims that the area has become a housing refuge for the working poor from the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

A mid-November story in The Washington Post quoted three Montgomery County, Md., families as saying they chose to move into public housing here after they couldn't find an affordable place to live.

Statistics don't point to such a trend, Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said.

"We have not seen the migration The Washington Post reported," he told the council.

All but 2 percent of the city's public housing units are occupied by local people, and local residents get preference in the Housing Authority's application process, he said.

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Councilwoman Penny May Nigh expressed skepticism, saying those statistics don't match the impression she has from talking to people in the city.

"I know for a fact that we have people moving here," Nigh said.

The fact is that Hagerstown has a large supply of public housing. Most of the 1,180 units were built shortly after World War II to fill a gap in middle-income housing, Shankle said.

Montgomery County, by comparison, has 1,500 public housing units to serve a population six times larger than Washington County's.

All public housing apartments are full with a waiting list of about 400 people, Shankle said.

Another 700 people are waiting for Section 8 vouchers, which subsidize the cost of private rentals, he said.

Less than 5 percent of the people on the waiting list are not from Hagerstown, he said.

The waiting list for public housing in Montgomery County is about 5,000 to 10,000 people, Shankle said.

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