Along party lines, the Anne Arundel County Council passed Bill 54-19 on July 1 to establish incentives for developers to create affordable housing. Even though the council’s three Republicans supported the idea of affordable workforce housing, they opposed the bill because of density concerns and skepticism that it won’t help enough people. A fair housing bill to eliminate discrimination will be voted on at the next meeting.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why Is The Legislation Needed?
Pete Baron, government affairs officer for County Executive Steuart Pittman’s administration, opened the debate by asking everyone to “separate rhetoric and fear from the discussion and focus on the facts.”
“Will this bill fix the affordable housing crisis in the county? No,” he said. “Will this bill put workforce housing development on every corner, on every available parcel? No. What will this bill do and why do we need it? This bill takes a step to reverse the bill from the previous council that passed in 2015, but the bill number is 82-14, which effectively killed the creation of workforce housing in this county. Before 82-14, workforce housing was a special exception in R2 and R5. This bill does not go that far.
“We have not built enough affordable workforce housing units. In 2006, the chamber of commerce task force noted a lack of workforce housing in this county is negatively affecting our businesses. This has an economic impact on our communities. Over the next four years, it’s estimated an additional 1,174 households will not be able to find housing in our county that they can afford.”
How Does It Work?
“It provides an incentive through the zoning code to encourage developers to build new affordable workforce housing units,” Baron said. “It allows the developer to build housing in commercial zones and light industrial zones at a density of 22 units per acre as long as the development meets certain conditions. It allows for 22 units per acre in R5, R10 and R15 zones as long as conditions are met. And it reduces the water and sewer connection fees.”
What Are The Conditions?
The property must be located on a collector or higher classification road. The property must be served by both public water and sewer. At least 40% of the homeownership units must be occupied by a household with an income that does not exceed 100% of the area median income. At least 60% of the rental units must be occupied by a household with an income that does not exceed 60% of the median income. All adequate public facilities tests must be met — school capacity, road and utility tests. Impact fees must be paid. All environmental rules must be obeyed, including critical area. All other zoning requirements must be met: parking, recreation, etc.
What Was Some Of The Testimony For And Against The Bill?
Forty-six percent of our renters in our county are paying more than 30% of their income toward rent. Our housing commission has over 17,000 people on their waiting list waiting for assistance.
Kathy Koch, Arundel Community Development Services
Outside of the GDP and comprehensive zoning, one of the criteria to have a parcel rezoned is that the characteristics of the surrounding parcels no longer are consistent. By increasing the density in R5 specifically, I feel that we are opening ourselves up to a domino effect of requests for increased zoning either residentially or commercially.
District 5 Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler
The county has long acknowledged a large unmet need for affordable housing. The state pegs the deficit of affordable housing in the county at 21,517 units and this is because we’ve got a mismatch between the county’s growth as a major regional job center and one of the fastest-growing residential areas in the region and the zoning.
Barbara Daniels, fair housing attorney for ACLU of Maryland
This does make progress. It is not a big, huge wave that is significant and is going to produce hundreds of units next year, because the funding comes from the state of Maryland to produce this rental housing and the reality is, you think you have restrictions, they have restrictions on top of restrictions. These communities have to be built in very smart growth urban areas.
Trudy McFall, representing Homes for America and served on Pittman’s subcommittee for affordable housing
My problem here is that people moved to Anne Arundel County because [of] what it is. They don’t live in Baltimore City, but now what we’re trying to do is turn Anne Arundel County into Baltimore City. So we sugarcoat things and we call it workforce housing when really what it’s called is low-income housing. We try to turn around and cover it with our first responders, with our police, we’re helping our teachers. We’re using all these things to make the feel-good stuff, but I’m going to give everyone in this crowd a real good test here: I want you to get in your car and I want you to go to Pioneer City or The Orchards. There you go. There’s plenty of houses back there to buy for $70,000. Why don’t you go move back there? You won’t move back there because it’s nothing but crime and that’s exactly what this kind of stuff will bring to Anne Arundel County.
Former District 2 Councilman John Grasso
This is not welfare housing. This is housing for families regardless if they work for 20 hours a week or 40 hours a week. They deserve affordable, safe, decent housing like every other citizen of Anne Arundel County and the United States of America.
Ivy Dench-Carter, Baltimore resident
Someone claimed earlier that this type of housing would only happen in an urban area. That’s not true. We in Severna Park were treated to an up-close-and-personal view of how this type of housing is really developed. The one proposed project cited just happened to be on Ritchie Highway in the heart of our residential community. It is calling for four multistory apartment buildings, which would have abutted directly on single-family homes on two sides. On the third side, it was across the narrow local street from single-family local homes. But the fact that it was on Ritchie Highway on one side made the planners and advocates think it was perfect. It was not. It would have damaged the neighborhood by jamming multiple tall apartment buildings into their midst.
Chris Ronk, Severna Park resident
This bill allows the upzoned condition along collector roads. For those here who don’t know, collector roads include Shore Acres Road, which already has an existing apartment complex; North Shore Road in Pasadena; Green Holly Road in Cape St. Claire; Arundel Beach Road in Severna Park; Sunrise Beach Road in Crownsville; the main circle in Crofton; St. Stephens Church Road in Gambrills; and my own road, Mago Vista in Arnold; and may other backroads which are already congested for over half the year.
David Bishop, Arnold resident
I’m extremely disappointed that this is what we’ve reached. I mean we have offered eight amendments that are potential compromise amendments … some of them are major substantive, some of them frankly are going to improve this bill by allowing a greater number of people to be eligible for this relief and frankly the people that we’ve ostensibly said are the ones we want to help, and so I’m very disappointed that we can’t take the time as a council to work together to try to come up with a better bill on this.
District 2 Councilman Nathan Volke