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Task force needs to take next step on housing issue

September 30, 2005

If the Washington County Commissioners appointed a task force to recommend solutions to the problem of dogs running loose, the panel's first recommendation would probably be "Get owners to control their pets."

No doubt the commissioners would then ask the task force how to do that and what penalties should be placed on owners who let dogs run free.

This week the commissioners heard the report of a task force they assigned to study the availability of work force housing.

What the task force found was no surprise. Home price increases are outpacing the growth in incomes of local residents, who are also being forced to compete with more affluent buyers coming from counties to the east.

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The task force's proposed solutions: Government should help with closing costs, should lower the cost of houses and the rents on modest apartments. And it should also ensure that reasonably priced units are being added to the supply.

All of these are common-sense recommendations. It's how they will be accomplished that remains to be worked out. We recommend that the commissioners ask the task force to stay on the job.

The first place to look would be at what other areas have done. This year the bulletin of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) Foundation looked at what a variety of local governments are doing about the problem.

San Francisco's Chamber of Commerce organized the Workforce Housing Initiative, which set up a fund to provide second mortgages to workers who otherwise couldn't afford them.

In Louisiana and East Texas, the Hibernia National Bank put together a low-cost mortgage program geared to school teachers, firefighters and police officers.

The Housing Trust Fund of Santa Clara County, Calif., solicits contributions from private corporations to create a fund to build affordable housing.

There are plenty of models out there. Now it's up to a group to study which ones would be the best fit here - and urge the commissioners to enact them quickly.

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