Affordable housing: How we did our report

November 12, 2005|By Richard Willson

The Washington County Workforce Housing Task Force applauds The Herald-Mail's interest in the subject of work force/affordable housing.

However, recent editorials and news columns have not accurately discussed or listed the complete recommendations contained in our report. This 18-member group, appointed by the County Commissioners, met every week from late June through October.

Our assigned deadline meant a short time frame. First we had to address the dimension of the local problem, then a wide variety of housing affordability efforts being attempted around the country.

We were asked to study how the excise tax would impact work force housing and to make recommendations on eight specific ways to encourage the development of workforce housing. A number of recommendations focus on the excise tax because only the state legislature can adopt recommended changes, the task force members believe the way the tax law was written will have an immediate detrimental impact on work force housing and the legislative session begins in January.


Our report acknowledges the complexity and fiscal choices posed by workforce housing efforts.

We hope that the County Commissioners and other elected officials will pick some prospects from our list to pursue in depth, utilizing a realistic mix of staff, professional and volunteer assistance to develop the necessary background studies plus legislative and regulatory proposals.

Washington County is beginning a comprehensive rezoning of its Urban Growth Area and Hagerstown is engaged in revision of its Comprehensive Plan. Some of the smaller municipalities are planning annexations. Each will choose the type of residential densities that fit the future envisioned for their communities. To the extent these decisions favor more expensive housing types, some of the recommendations below become accordingly more expensive or even infeasible and therefore less accessible to those at local wage and salary scales.

The task force report emphasizes the importance of intergovernmental cooperation in addressing housing affordability. We would like to see the county and all of the municipalities adopt the same inclusionary zoning provisions.

We hope the list below helps to correct any misimpressions concerning the contents of our report. A copy may be found on the county's Web site at or by contacting the County Commissioners. We urge you to read the report and express your preferences to the County Commissioners, municipal mayors and councils and our state delegation.

Richard Willson, task force chairman, is writing on behalf of the Workforce Housing Task Force.

The task force's list of recommendations

The following is a brief summary of the full array of recommendations contained within the Workforce Housing Task Force report of Oct 25:

· A five-year graduated tax credit for qualified new homeowners.

· Eligibility for working families under 50 percent of median income if through working status, savings, etc., they are otherwise qualified.

· Every new housing unit should pay some excise tax towards the cost of public facilities, but the amount determined by a sliding scale based on unit size rather than a fixed per-unit basis.

· Excise tax on multi-family units should be same as single-family instead of more.

· Doubling of excise tax in large developments should not apply to units less than 2,000 square feet. Doubling of the excise tax now applies to all units over 25 annually.

· Residential additions over 1,000 square feet should be subject to excise tax. Currently you can put a 4,000 square foot addition onto an 850-square- foot house and pay no excise tax.

· Adjustments to the excise tax structure in total should be revenue neutral, so that more costs of schools, roads and other public facilities are not spread to the general taxpayer.

· Local government and local employers each match state loans already available towards closing costs for eligible purchasers of affordable housing.

· A partnership program of local government and employers towards closing costs.

· A Workforce Housing Trust Fund for loans and strategic write-downs to spur development of affordable housing.

· A Land Trust that can be used in a wide variety of neighborhoods, substantially lowering initial costs to buyer, splitting investment appreciation with the community and permanently maintaining affordable units.

· Regulatory relief would examine building and zoning code standards for unnecessary or duplicative provisions.

· Examine allowing manufactured housing under modern codes that eliminate problems created by old stereotypes.

· Expand the existing Acquisition with Rehabilitation program for current substandard housing units and explore offset with the Land Trust initiative

· Immediate adoption of mandatory inclusionary zoning where developers make a percentage of new units affordable to work force housing families in turn for additional density in developments. This item was included in the public hearing report, but a preliminary voluntary program was eliminated for the final report presented to the commissioners.

· Appropriate consultants should be used so we do not reinvent the wheel when grinding out the details to adapt other communities program for local use.

· First priority for eligibility, whenever possible, should be given to those working in Washington County.

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