Sunday, November 17, 2019

Already Here

When County Executive Calvin Ball presented an initiative to increase affordable housing in Howard County, the typical pushback began: those aren’t the kind of people we want to attract. Over in Montgomery County, it’s the County Executive, Marc Elrich, throwing cold water on the development of affordable housing for the very same reason: that’s not the kind of growth we want here.

What this line of thinking ignores is that the people who need affordable housing are already here. (Or, in the case of MoCo, there.) It’s not about bringing people in. It’s about responding to a demonstrated local need. Isn’t that what good government does?

We already know we have a shortage of 5,500 affordable units in Howard County. Imagine 5,500 human beings. Or more, since some are couples and families. If it helps, imagine them all assembled holding signs or wearing matching t-shirts and overflowing public meetings. circling the mall perhaps. Of course you’re not going to see this in real life because these Howard County residents are struggling just to survive and don’t have time or energy or resources to make a big splash on the local scene.

They are Howard Countians nonetheless.

You say we don’t need more poor people in Howard County. But these people are already here. They work here, pay taxes here. So what should we do, deport them? We know how much money one needs to make to afford to live in Howard County. It should be fairly easy to single out the kinds of jobs that won’t produce that kind of income.

Poof! Sorry, you can’t live here. Bye-bye poor people.

Who will hold those jobs? Forcing those employees out of Howard County will not give them any more money to buy cars or use transit to commute. (And area transit is sadly lacking.)  So imagine that all the businesses powered by the workers no longer exist.

Can we afford that? Does that make for a better Howard County?

Hmm. There must be another way.

Okay, let’s try this. All of the salaries for the lower wage jobs should be increased to make it possible for families to afford to live in Howard County. We know how much that is, so let’s raise wages accordingly. Then we won’t have any more poor people.

But the businesses can’t afford to do that? Or perhaps they’d have to raise their prices to the community so much that we couldn’t afford them?


Of course it’s highly illegal to “deport” low wage workers,  And while advocating for a living minimum wage is admirable, forcing employers to raise salaries to Howard County levels probably isn’t legal, either.

What’s left?

The way I see it, we can either get rid of less affluent people and suffer the consequences (and there are consequences) or we can raise their salaries so they can afford to live here. Or maybe, just maybe, we can make affordable housing a priority so that they can find a place to live that’s in their price range.

You and I make consumer decisions based on what we can afford. Why shouldn’t everyone in Howard County have that choice? Remember, this is about responding to resident need. Are their needs less important than ours?

There are only so many significant variables here. Looking at them and ignoring the need for more affordable housing is actually saying that you are just fine with having poor people in Howard County, because that is exactly the status quo you are defending.

They don’t have to be poor. Wildly expensive housing makes them poor.

What are we going to do about it?

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