Recently I was in the market for a job (long story) and I found myself looking at job listings. Yes, I’m on LinkedIn. And I searched the listings at the Baltimore Sun website. I also visited our local Craigslist for job listings.
I tried a little experiment. I clicked on “all jobs” and then specified “Howard County” Or “Columbia” Or “Ellicott City”. The results were eye opening. First off: there are many, many jobs in Howard County that I am not qualified to do. But there was a pattern that showed up as I performed this search each day. Most of the jobs that appeared did not pay enough to support actually living in Howard County.
James Rouse famously said “if you work here you should be able to live here.” In Columbia today that remains largely aspirational. In Howard County no one ever made such a suggestion. One is more often likely to hear comments like “if you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else.”
Okay, so let’s say they all live somewhere else but we need them to work in Howard County. So that’s who will be on the highways every morning coming in to work, and in the evening going home. That’s more gasoline being burned and more traffic clogging the roads in and out of town.
We need affordable apartments and affordable homes in Howard County. Don’t believe me? Try the Craigslist search yourself. Today, it seems that we’re looking for:
Auto body techs
School bus drivers
How many of these jobs pay enough to make living in Howard County a reality? What would happen if we woke up one morning and only had the workers who could afford to live here? How many vital jobs would go undone? Then all of us would have to get in our cars to go to them.
Yes, I know that we are known for highly educated, highly skilled professionals here in awkward County. We boast doctors and lawyers, IT and cyber security pros, government employees and contractors. That’s great. Tell me how that works for you when you need someone to look after your
elderly mother or drive your child to school.
I’ve heard the term “Full Spectrum Housing” and I grabbed this from a document posted online found in a quick Google Search of the term:
Full Spectrum Housing Coalition
Live, Work, and Play in a Robust Community
The Coalition believes that a full spectrum of housing:
Supports economic development
Provides for green and sustainable development
Creates housing for everyone in the workforce including first responders and educators
Supports diversity and equity
Provides a place for generations to live and grow together
Essentially, if you want to have a full spectrum community, you need to have Full Spectrum Housing. This does not mean just the very wealthy plus those at the very lowest end who need subsidized options. It means all the ranges in between. We definitely have a “missing middle” in Howard County. And while it may be appealing to mention teachers and first responders, it’s just as valid to welcome auto mechanics and hairstylists. Let’s not make some people “more equal” than others.
And let’s not persist in maintaining a system where some folks are relegated to living out of town the way Victorian house staff lived in the attic.
By the way, my random screen grab on Full Spectrum Housing? Look what it says at the bottom:
Members include but are not limited to:
Association of Community Services of Howard County (convener)
African American Coalition
Columbia Housing Corporation
Interfaith Affordable Housing Coalition
Congregations Concerned for the Homeless
St. Stephens Economic Development Corporation
Members of the Affordable Housing Task Force
Hmm. Pretty smart, that Google machine.