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Report says county is in housing 'crisis'

September 29, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

With a median home price of $240,000 in Washington County, many families earning local wages don't make nearly enough to buy a house, according to a task force created by the County Commissioners to study work force housing.

The increase in the cost of homes is greatly outpacing increases in local incomes, making affordable homes more difficult to find, the task force said.

"I suppose that's true, yes," Commissioner John C. Munson said Wednesday. "There ain't no way I'm going out and buying a house these days."

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Munson said the affordable housing issue isn't just affecting low-income families, but that "the majority" of Washington County residents can't afford to buy homes.

The task force, which has met since June, has some recommendations that it hopes will help the average family find a home that fits its budget, whether by buying or renting.

The group states in the report the county has an affordable housing "crisis" and that it should have programs in place to help with closing costs, to lower the cost of houses, to lower rents on modest apartments and to ensure that reasonably priced units are being added to the supply, according to the report.

"The greatest challenge will not be whether to adopt these recommendations, but rather where to place the community's energy and resources so that these programs can be adopted as quickly as possible," the report states.

The task force will present the report to the commissioners Oct. 5.

The county's Building Excise Tax Ordinance defines work force housing as being "for households with an income that is greater than 50 percent but does not exceed 120 percent of the average family median income for households in Washington County as established by the Planning Director."

But according to the report, "a Washington County family will need to earn 135 percent of median to afford the median priced home."

According to the report, the 2005 median income for a family of four in Washington County is $56,250. To afford the $240,000 median-priced home, a family would have to earn $76,190.

In 2004, the median sale price of a home was $176,000, or $64,000 lower than the median sale price in 2005. The median income for a family of four was $55,000, according to the report.

"House prices have been going up by 13 percent per year in the last five years, and incomes are only projected to rise by a more modest 3 percent figure, leaving Washington County residents to face an ever widening affordability gap," the report states.

The report also states the county's population growth, which includes more commuters with higher-paying jobs, is affecting the price of homes.

"Households arriving in Washington County from the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area are relieved to finally find housing they can afford, or they find that here they can purchase more house for the same outlay," the report states. "These families are competing in the market with households working in Washington County at generally lower wage scales."

"It's hurting the ones that were here before, the regular people," Munson said.

The report states that the county, with a current population of 141,050, is gaining approximately 10,000 residents every five years. That's twice the rate of growth in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

"The law of supply and demand explains why the recent increase in population has had such a marked effect on home prices," according to the report.

Munson offered a recommendation to help deal with rising housing costs.

"For one month, stop buying houses, and that would bring the values back down a bit," Munson said. "But that would never happen."

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