- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. Fast-growing Frederick County has adopted a housing program aimed at ensuring that people of modest incomes the "working poor" aren't priced out of the market.
Advocates say the ordinance, modeled after a 19-year-old program in neighboring Montgomery County, will enable more people in low-paying service jobs to live near work and give their children better educational opportunities.
"This is the only way we're going to be able to find, decent, safe and affordable housing for those people in our community," said James Upchurch, a leading proponent of the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program.
Opponents call it public housing in disguise. The program requires that roughly one in eight homes in most new residential developments be sold at a reduced price. Critics say it will bring more crime into communities on the outer edge of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
"The MPDU is a pill that I and many others in the Frederick County community do not want to swallow," Realtor Charles Jenkins said.
The plan, more than 10 years in the making, is intended to correct what proponents call an imbalance in the housing market caused by persistent strong demand. As the county's population has grown up more than 30 percent in the 1990s so have home prices and household incomes.
The county's median home price as of October was $197,000, according to Mr. Upchurch, president of Frederick-based Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $999, according to a scale developed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The county's median household income was $78,718, according to the county's housing and community development office.
A worker would have to earn $19.21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Frederick County, compared with an average of $16.82 statewide and $14.66 nationally, according to the Washington-based National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The MPDU program applies to residential developments of 25 or more units. The developers must subsidize the lower-priced homes or apartments in return for "density bonuses" that allow them to build more units than would otherwise be allowed on the sites.
To be eligible to buy an MPDU home, a single person can earn up to $32,766 while a family of four can have a household income no higher than $46,784.
MPDU housing rates would vary based on the size of the unit and costs associated with any home sale. The average price of a single-family detached home would be $115,207; of a townhouse, $99,199; of a two-bedroom apartment, $700 a month.
"This really is significant," outgoing Frederick County Commissioners President David Gray said this month after the board voted unanimously for the ordinance. "It is an acknowledgement that we have affordability issues in Frederick County. It is an attempt to come to grips with that."
Craig Russell, a Frederick County Bank officer who supports the housing program, said the ordinance was aimed at helping bank tellers, sales clerks, nurses' aides, truck drivers and construction workers "the people we rely on every day."
The ordinance "is an effective way of restoring some balance to our housing situation," he said.
Mr. Jenkins predicted it would drag down the value of homes near the low-priced units. But Thomas W. Doerr, vice president of the Washington-based Innovative Housing Institute, said that hasn't been the case in Montgomery County. He said his group's study found no difference in the resale prices of market-based homes at various distances from MPDU units.
Developer Tony Natelli, chairman of Gaithersburg-based Natelli Communities, said his company has developed 1,000 MPDU homes in Montgomery County. It's not a perfect program, he said, but he urged the Frederick County Commissioners to adopt it.
"The affordable housing problem is not going to go away," he said. "The program is one that can work."
Mr. Natelli said Montgomery County's program works better now than when it started, and that Frederick County would benefit from their neighbor's experience.
"It should be implemented. It should be implemented wisely," he said.


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