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More subsidized units needed in city

May 29, 2004|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

Hagerstown has a lower percentage of state- and federal-subsidized housing than Annapolis, Frostburg, Salisbury and Baltimore, according to a recent analysis of housing subsidies in seven Maryland cities.

City officials have been looking at ways to boost the level of homeownership in the city, as well as ways to limit the amount of rental housing, including subsidized housing in which renters must earn less than a government-set level to qualify for housing assistance.

But after taking a look at Hagerstown and other cities' numbers, a state housing analyst believes the city could use more, not less, subsidized housing.

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"I see that there's a need for affordable housing in Hagerstown," said John Greiner, the housing policy officer for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. "They have an awful lot of people in the city who are paying excessive rents."

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, who has questioned the city's level of rental and subsidized housing, disagreed with Greiner's findings.

"I think that we have our fair share as far as apartments that are subsidized," Nigh said. "Move them out into the county, where there's still plenty of room. I just don't think that the city can handle any more."

In response to an inquiry by The Herald-Mail, Greiner analyzed recent housing data for Hagerstown, Annapolis, Baltimore, Cumberland, Frederick, Frostburg and Salisbury. Greiner compared the number of government-subsidized rental homes to the overall number of rental homes in each city.

The analysis showed that in Hagerstown, between 17 percent and 19 percent of residents in rental homes use some kind of state or federal subsidy. Annapolis ranked highest with about 27 percent of its rental homes subsidized. Frederick ranked the lowest at about 15 percent.

In Hagerstown, there are between 1,600 and 1,800 homes that use state money and federal money that is administered by the state, according to Greiner's study.

There are about 9,214 total rental homes in Hagerstown, according to www.census.gov, the U.S. Census Bureau's Web site.

The state analysis used different data than a recent study of Hagerstown's subsidized rental housing performed by the city's planning department.

The city study showed that nearly 30 percent of the city's rental properties use some form of government subsidy to help pay rent, meaning 2,649 rental homes are subsidized.

Greiner's analysis did not include federal Section 8 vouchers. Greiner said including those vouchers in the count could cause double counting.

There are 884 Section 8 vouchers managed by the Hagerstown Housing Authority.

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