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Housing program under way

June 04, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Although 21 of 25 slots remain to be filled in a program that would give money to young professionals who choose to live in downtown Hagerstown, city officials expect the program to be successful.

"I'm not upset with the numbers at all. I'm rather encouraged, actually," said Hagerstown Community Development Manager Larry Bayer, who is in charge of the housing program.

Although one prospective participant criticized administrators after his application was denied, officials remained positive.

The Downtown Residency Initiative was designed to entice people who recently have graduated from college, were honorably discharged from the military, work in government or other professions including education, health care and law enforcement, or are students or staff of the University System of Maryland.

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Those who qualify can receive $100 a month for one year if they are renting, or $1,500 toward a down payment or closing costs if they are buying a home. The program is budgeted to subsidize residents of 25 homes this year and 25 next year.

The program was unveiled in late February, and the first participant signed on in late March, Bayer said.

As of Thursday, two home owners and two renters had joined the program, Bayer said. An additional three or four applications were being processed, he said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who hailed the program when it was introduced, said he believed it could be publicized more, but said he wasn't displeased with the participation so far.

"I think it's a very underpublicized program that's never been tried before ... I predict it will be highly successful."

Bayer said his department later this month will be putting more emphasis on marketing, including newspaper advertising, mailings and working more with local employers such as the Board of Education and Washington County Hospital.

Metzner said "some marketing is a good idea, but I don't think very much money is going to have to be spent. ... I think it will be sold very quickly."

Malcolm Norred, 32, of South Prospect Street, criticized the program before the City Council last week.

Norred said last week he has been a part of the local arts community for years and fits the ideal of whom the city should encourage to live downtown, but felt he was being discriminated against because he is part of the gay community.

Contacted Thursday, Norred backed off his claims of discrimination, but said he believed the program doesn't include enough people.

"I thought their whole purpose was to get people who made decent salaries," said Norred, who works at a local hair salon. "Because I don't fit their narrow criteria ... I was denied."

Bayer said he reviewed Norred's application and denied it because "he basically didn't meet the qualifications for the program."

"What we're talking about ... are people who have got some advanced training in what is normally considered to be a profession," Bayer said.

Metzner said, "Would I like to see professional artists and writers in the program? Absolutely ... (but) I have yet to hear a valid, constructive, negative comment about" the program.

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