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The purpose of this letter is to address some of the testimony provided at the tier map hearing that mentioned the statistics of homes that are “underwater” (valued on the market at less than the mortgage-holders are owed).

Listening to the testimony had me mystified as to what relevance these statistics could possibly play in a discussion of a tier map until someone compared property values of one proposed tier against another.

Rather than providing relevant fact-based testimony, these speakers chose to go the route of spurious correlation using the claim that 60 percent of homes in Waldorf are “underwater” as “proof” that our current land management practices are flawed. Assuming that 75 percent of residential development is located in the development district in northern Charles County (according to the latest annual report of the Charles County Planning Commission) here are the practical realities:

First and foremost, property proposed for Tier IV is land either under some type of conservation easement or is by virtue of its environmental characteristics unsuitable for development. Therefore, this land has no value in the marketplace and is immune from cyclical economic fluctuations up or down. These properties are not a valid comparison to property, like farms, that are subject to market conditions.

Secondly, the reductive statement that 60 percent of homes in Waldorf are underwater is very misleading. Using the most recent U.S. census data for housing units in Charles County, approximately 41,858 homes would be in northern Charles County. The percentage of homes without a mortgage in this area ranges between 5.79 and 9.12 percent. That’s between 2,424 and 3,817, or, on average, 3,120 homes, and none of them are “underwater.”

That means approximately 38,738 homes in northern Charles County have a mortgage.

Of homes with a mortgage in northern Charles County, approximately 6,339 were constructed during the housing bubble between 2002 and 2007 and have mortgages 10 years old or less; approximately 32,399 have mortgages older than 10 years. The sad reality is that homes constructed and mortgaged during the housing bubble of 2002-2007 are more likely than not to be underwater.

Using the testimony that 60 percent fall into this category suggests approximately 3,803 homes in northern Charles are underwater. Therefore, approximately 88 percent of the homes in northern Charles are not underwater.

Across the nation, home values have declined and homeowners not underwater have lost equity value but that does not mean they are in danger of foreclosure or will be forced to engage in a short sale if they place their home on the market today. The current condition of our local housing market has nothing to do with the perception by some that it was caused by poor planning practices and will be cured by a tier map that robs property owners of their rights and land values.

The position of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors in support of the tier map proposed by the planning commission is based on a core value of our mission: to promote and protect private property rights. This is not a self-serving position nor is it about our bottom line because as long as there are homes, we will always have homes to sell.

Kevin Turner, Hughesville

The writer is the president of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors.