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City hears low-income housing ideas

August 18, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council heard two proposals Tuesday to address housing needs for low-income families.

The council approved one proposal to speed the city's process to buy private homes and sell them at a discounted price.

A second proposal - to move forward on adopting new regulations that would encourage large-scale housing developers to include room for low-income families - did not progress as easily.

City Community Development Manager Larry Bayer asked the council's permission to bypass a long-standing procedure of getting council approval to negotiate the price of a home before buying it.

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Bayer's department runs a program that buys private homes, refurbishes them and sells them at below-market rates to buyers who meet low-income standards. The program has been in place for 10 years, and 80 homes have been purchased through the program, according to information Bayer provided.

Bayer said that because the city's housing market is heating up, its program needs to act faster to buy homes.

The council unanimously approved the request.

The second low-income housing proposal was debated by the council.

City Planning Director Kathleen Maher presented a short study on "inclusionary zoning" programs in nearby counties that disperse low-income residents by encouraging housing project developers to make room for low-income residents in projects that invite middle- and high-income residents.

Inclusionary zoning practices have been in place in Montgomery County, Md., for 30 years. Howard County, Frederick County and the City of Annapolis have adopted similar rules in the last few years, according to Maher's analysis.

In June, nationally recognized expert David Rusk encouraged city officials to pursue inclusionary zoning rules here, but said the intended effects would be harder to achieve if Washington County did not also participate.

No new rules have been developed for the city to consider, but officials are hoping to get to that point.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said on Tuesday that he would be "hard-pressed to support" adopting inclusionary zoning rules without a promise from county officials that they also would adopt the rules.

"We cannot do inclusionary zoning by ourselves," Aleshire said.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he believed waiting for the county officials could keep the program from starting.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said "I'd sure like to see this not die on the vine. ... I think the city can go it alone."

Considering the spiking interest in the area's housing market, Hendershot said the wave of new housing is "coming whether we like it or not."

The council agreed to move the plans along by putting together a tour of Montgomery County's program and inviting Washington County officials.

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