Half of the median for a family of four in Washington County is $32,050 (that's $2,671 per month) and the 30 percent that we use to define what this household should be budgeting for housing is $801.
Out of this $801 housing budget we have to carve utilities and maybe insurance before we decide whether there is enough money to rent or buy. Using average utility figures of $50-60 for electricity, $50-75 for heat, water and sewer charges of $60 and $10 for trash removal, the family at median income is shopping for a three-bedroom house with less than $630 left in their pocket.
On several successive Fridays in January, I made a list of all of the rentals and for-sale units offered in the multiple list and in The Herald Mail, and the news for the family earning half of median income isn't good.
Of the 80 or so three-bedroom units for rent on any given Friday this past January, only 20 percent rented at or below the level HUD defines as "modest" for our market area (their "fair market rent"), and $744 was the lowest rent for a three-bedroom apartment I could find.
So families earning $32,050 cannot afford the vacant units out there wearing "for rent" signs. And that is why the federal government offers rental assistance beginning at that level.
But what about families right at the median level? For the family earning $64,100, 30 percent of monthly income is $1,602. Subtract $170 for utility expenses and you have about $1,400 for housing. The good news is that $1,400 will provide you a choice of 50 three-bedroom rental units.
But are they able to afford to purchase a home here in Washington County? Well, the bad news is that with 30-year mortgage rates at 6.25 percent, and an annual repair budget of $1,000, plus $2,330 for taxes and $550 for insurance, you can only purchase a home for $220,000, and your basic choices will include a number of town homes and properties that need more work than you can afford.
Washington County housing costs are under pressure from people willing to commute to higher paying jobs in the metropolitan area, while our workers are moving west and north to find an "affordable" place to live. The social cost of this new way of life is real.
Families have less time to give back to the communities in which they live, our roads are clogged with traffic, water and air quality suffers, and so far, this growth has not lead to any marked increase in higher-paying, skilled jobs.
Finding housing solutions needs to be on the agenda at every level of government, because we care about this community's future.
In forthcoming columns, I will talk about some of the promising ideas recommended by the county's Task Force on Workforce Housing that completed its final report in October 2005. We all need to understand the issues and participate in the process of crafting solutions that can work here where we live.
I also welcome your views and suggestions about future columns. You may contact me at email@example.com or in your letters to the editor.
Richard Willson is executive director of the Washington County Housing Authority.
GOP fought gamely against takeover of left
To the editor:
The 2007 General Assembly session proved that the far left has taken over in Maryland. In just 90 days, not only did the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly squander a $2.3 billion surplus inherited from Gov. Bob Ehrlich's administration, but has enacted some of the most left-wing legislation that Maryland has ever seen.
Career violent criminals who rejected the laws of our society will now have the opportunity to vote after Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation that extends the voting franchise to felons.
This means that convicted burglars, rapists, and even murderers will now be able to walk out of prison and vote against the sheriffs who arrested them and the state's attorneys who prosecuted them.