- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s County government has given up on trying to increase the housing options for two-thirds of the working families who live in this community.
Plans to give developers rights to build additional homes in Lexington Park and Leonardtown if some of those homes are earmarked for workforce housing have been abandoned. Instead the St. Mary’s County commissioners are considering giving developers those expanded rights without any such requirement.
A task force that has been studying the housing squeeze for working families in St. Mary’s has been disbanded.
This task force has been working intermittently since 2005, at the invitation of the county commissioners at that time. In March, the current commissioners sent the co-chairmen of the task force a letter that said, “Although we appreciate the task force’s recommendations, we do not plan on taking any action at this time.”
Why the collapse of any effort to encourage the construction of housing that working people can afford?
That’s not entirely clear, since the task force was never invited to present its latest recommendations in a public session and there was no public discussion about why those recommendations were rejected.
It can’t be because the county government doesn’t want to spend money to address the housing problems of those living on modest incomes. The plan to give developers more building rights in exchange for construction of workforce housing wouldn’t cost a dime. It’s simply a change in the zoning ordinance to offer those developers an incentive to do it.
Perhaps there is a misconception about what workforce housing is. It is not subsidized housing. It is not targeted to people on public assistance. Workforce housing is intended to be affordable to those who earn between 45 and 110 percent of the median household income in St. Mary’s County; using 2010 figures that translates to a yearly income of between $39,800 and $97,280. And that, according to a co-chairman of the task force, includes 67 percent of the households in St. Mary’s County.
The greatest housing need here is for those who work in the service industry. Because of Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the work by defense contractors associated with it, new hotels have gone up, restaurants are packed and retail stores are busy. The people who work in these places are among those struggling to find a place to live.
Last week some of the county commissioners said they understand the need for more workforce housing.
But it shouldn’t all be directed around Lexington Park, one commissioner said. Actually, it should be there, another commissioner said, and not in other town centers like Hollywood or Charlotte Hall. However, if the concern is too much new housing in particular areas, why are the commissioners considering changing the rules to allow developers to build more homes on many parcels of land in those areas without tying those extras homes to workforce housing?
We’re not talking about building slums. We’re talking about incentives to developers to provide decent homes for people who get up and go to work each day. They are waitresses, teachers, sales clerks, postal workers, housekeeping staff, police officers, clerks and young professionals just starting families.
This community runs on the work these people do. Why has the county government abandoned any efforts to encourage developers to build homes they can afford? Why should anyone object to having these people living next door?