Earlier this year, the County hired RCLCO, real estate advisers, to create an assessment and recommendation regarding a Housing Opportunities Master Plan. Please find attached the findings of this firm. Your Board of Governors closely examined this document which generated much review and discussion. It was the opinion of the Board, unanimously, not to endorse this housing plan. Highlights of this document are addressed and should be of great concern to every resident of our County.
Housing Opportunities Master Plan Assessment
Have you read the County’s Housing Opportunities Master Plan released 6 November 2020? It is designed to support and facilitate lower and moderate-income housing to Howard County. In the “land of YES” and “choose civility” we are a tolerant and inclusive group. As we should be. However, in any endeavor a smart investor needs to conduct a risk/reward assessment before “buying into” any purchase or plan.
The Plan begins with the premise that we have insufficient diversity and housing for lower income residents in Howard County. Whether you subscribe to that premise, or not, there are consequences to this plan and its policies.
Providing subsidies, vouchers or other financial assistance to potential homeowners will indeed attract large numbers of new residents. If you could live in Howard County and enjoy all its amenities and have government assistance to get here why would you not participate? We arguably have the best school system in the State. What is not to like? BUT do we have the infrastructure to support such an endeavor?
- School System. Our schools are already overwhelmed with students forcing many to learn in trailers and other outbuildings while we struggle to build new schools. oHoaMost schools are at 110% capacity or higher. This initiative will only add to this burden. Most new schools take 2-3 years to build. Overwhelming classrooms takes one semester.
- Roads and highways. Are we insufficiently congested in Howard County? Have you been on Rt 29 in the morning or late afternoon? What are the costs affiliated with maintaining our roads with more traffic?
- Revenue Streams. The Plan recognizes this enterprise will require additional and continued revenue to support it. It recommends using existing revenue sources plus creating new revenue streams dedicated to this endeavor. Translation: more taxation to an existing line item in the budget and the creation of new taxes. Begin with Page 5, but all throughout this document there is reference for the need of additional revenue sources while giving “tax incentives” to landlords and developers. If the County requires less taxes (revenue) from landlords but we add more financial obligations to the County who makes up that shortfall? Answer: the person reading this. Does this make any fiscal sense at all?
- Right of first refusal. When rental properties come on the market the County reserves “the right of first refusal” to purchase same. It is unclear as to the mechanism to determine fair market value. Page 6.
- More bureaucracy. The Plan recommends creating an inter-agency component to help plan, strategize and coordinate this effort with other county agencies. More staff, more positions and a lot more $$$ the County will expend. If you enjoy bureaucracy and all its complexities you will love this initiative. $$$$ Page 5.
- Zoning. Remove references in the zoning code that limit the number of unrelated persons can occupy one unit while maintaining health and safety. This literally talks out of both sides of its mouth. There is nothing safe about overcrowding. Page 10.
- Storm Water Management. Developing more land to support this initiative is likely to impact our Storm Water Management. Development aside, adding more customers (unrelated persons) to an existing building increases the use of the County’s infrastructure to include SWM.
- APFO. Reverse much of the hard-fought gains in limiting unintelligent development by greedy developers. The Developers will love this. Page 11.
- Review Process. Ensure Discretionary Reviews and Public Design Reviews do not unnecessarily delay projects. In other words, “thank you for your input, but we are moving forward.” Page 4.
- Taxes. This Plan is littered with “Tax Incentives” for participants. Particularly landlords. Any shortfalls between revenue coming in versus fiscal expenditures will be subsidized by county residents. If you believe you are UNDER taxed this plan is for you! Page 7.
- Code Enforcement. Expand code enforcement in coordination with landlord and tenant outreach. Translation: Reduce code requirements to facilitate this Plan. Page 7.
- No Appeal. Here is a serious rub to all we hold dear in Howard County. This Plan, if embraced and passed by the County Council, does not afford an appeal process by community members, residents, or other stakeholders. There is no appeal. The “outreach” is all about the County, tenants and landlords.
With much review and discussion the Board of Governors of the St John’s Community Association has determined not to recommend or endorse this Housing Opportunities Master Plan for the aforementioned reasons. If you own or intend to build an “in-law suite” nothing in the current code prohibits this if you meet appropriate safety guidelines. Aging in place is a good thing.
This Plan may be well intentioned, but candidly, neither our County nor Community are in a position to adopt such sweeping financial obligations in addition to adding to our already-overwhelmed infrastructure. The intention to initiate such an endeavor when the County, and other jurisdictions, are suffering a reduction in tax revenues due to Covid 19 is unconscionable. Once again, any shortfalls in revenue will be corrected on the backs of its taxpayers.
What To Do: Please take the attached survey and answer, “Strongly Disagree.” This remains your community and your county. Let’s not surrender it to misguided politicians and greedy developers.