County Criticized For Not Addressing Affordable Housing

SNOW
HILL – Worcester County is not doing enough to develop affordable and workforce
housing, according to Shore Housing Resource Board (SHRB) member Thomas Davis.

After
receiving a proclamation for National Fair Housing Month, Davis, the SHRB
community affairs volunteer, took the opportunity to prod the Worcester County
Commissioners.

“This
county needs to move a little bit,” Davis said.

Other
jurisdictions are moving forward with plans for affordable and workforce
housing, from Berlin to Salisbury to Somerset County, he said.

Davis
was a member of the workforce housing task force created a few years ago, which
spent a year and a half working on the problem.

“We
wrote a report and gave it to the County Commissioners,” said Davis, who added
nothing came of it.

County
Commissioner Louise Gulyas, a task force member, said there were no practical
solutions put forward by the housing body.

“I
don’t feel the task force came up with workable solutions,” said Gulyas.

After
the report was delivered, Davis said the commissioners put the report on the
back burner.

“The
first excuse was, the election’s coming up, let’s wait till the election’s
over,” he said.

Commissioner
Linda Busick, newly elected this fall, did make workforce housing part of her
campaign. After the presentation of the proclamation Tuesday, she told Davis
she would work on it.

“Workforce
housing and affordable housing are two separate issues but we need both,”
Busick said.

One
of the task force’s recommendations was inclusionary zoning, which the
commissioners rejected last week during discussions on updating the zoning
code.

“I’m
still a proponent of inclusionary zoning,” Busick said. “I know there are
difficulties in regulating, in the selection process.”

Other
jurisdictions have successfully used inclusionary zoning, she said, adding that
she would like to visit some of those jurisdictions and study their methods.
The technical difficulties can be hammered out, she said.

Gulyas,
who did not attend the work session for health reasons, disagreed.

“I’ve
never felt it was the answer,” she said.

The
commissioners directed the staff, during the zoning code discussion, to look at
alternate ways to encourage workforce housing.

“We’re
going to have to come up with some kind of ordinance or law or zoning program
where developers will have to do the affordable housing first,” Gulyas said.

The
real problem, according to Davis, is the lack of public outcry.

“There’s
no pressure or demand by the people that they pay attention,” he said. “There’s
no lobbying for affordable housing.”

Worcester
County offers some housing help through its economic development office. That
office administers state and federal loan programs for home repair and
occasionally replacement for lower income homeowners, as well as some low
interest loan programs for certain buyers, said Economic Development Director
Jerry Redden.

“To
help Worcester Countians get more affordable housing is absolutely something
we’re very interested in,” said Redden. “I put it as a very high priority.”

The
commissioners expressed some concern this week that people are not as aware of
those options as they might be.

“We
need to get the word out on these different programs,” said Commissioner Judy
Boggs. “We talk about affordable housing. A lot of people are looking to be
homeowners.”

In
the past, Davis has suggested that Worcester County separate housing from the
economic development department and create a new entity to concentrate on
housing resources, but that has not happened.

Arlene
Page, former executive director of Worcester County Habitat for Humanity,
agreed with Davis, saying that a housing administrator could act as mediator
with all parties.

“The
county can do more,” Page said. “They need a housing guru.”

The
trend in the housing dialogue with county elected officials is to leave housing
to the non-profits, Davis said.

“That’s
ridiculous. Non-profits can’t get any state or federal money without the
jurisdiction they’re in approving it,” said Davis.

The
Cannery Village workforce housing project in Berlin has received grant funds
through the town, for example.

Workforce
housing is not all that’s needed. Affordable housing, geared for those lower on
the economic scale, appears to be a taboo subject, Davis said. Workforce
housing is the only type on the table.

“That
still doesn’t address the backbone of our society, the laborers, the
cabdrivers, the busboys,” Davis said.

Gulyas
said there’s no simple solution, but there are a variety of options, from
zoning code requirement to using county land.

“Whether
it’s low income or work force, we need both,” said Gulyas.

Davis
said he hopes to see the county step up to the plate on the matters at hand.

“If they want to do
it, they can do it,” Davis said. “It’s not even on the agenda.” 

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