ANNAPOLIS – Maryland housing advocates trekked to Annapolis Wednesday to alert lawmakers to the growing lack of affordable housing and to jockey for position in the battle for funding while the state faces a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall.
It was the second annual “Housing Day in Annapolis,” an organized effort to draw lawmakers’ attention to housing industry issues and interests.
Victor Hoskins, newly appointed secretary for Housing and Community Development, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan and other public officials joined the lobbying effort.
Unease over rising housing costs quickly became the focal point of the day.
“The shortage of affordable housing has an adverse effect on everyone’s quality of life,” said Norman Cohen, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.
A Maryland resident must earn $16.82 hourly to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the monthly market rent of $875, ranking Maryland seventh-least- affordable state in the country.
“We’ve got to come up with a statewide strategy and vision,” Duncan said to the roughly 300 participants.
Duncan asked them to support Delegate Sharon Grosfeld’s bill to establish a study commission on housing policy to tackle the problem.
“We have to convince people where the needs are and where they should be addressed,” said Marie White, legislative aide to the Montgomery Democrat.
In his remarks, Housing Secretary Hoskins highlighted his department’s support of rental assistance and housing programs for the disabled, prompting applause.
“These are the programs that create communities,” he said.
Hoskins also said he intended to form partnerships with private organizations to provide housing opportunities and evaluate other states’ programs for possible use in Maryland.
The reverie was short-lived, as budget realities intruded.
While housing gets treated comparatively well in Ehrlich’s budget, said legislative budget analyst Warren Deschenaux, “the stark reality is that Maryland’s budget will support a government that is 10 percent smaller than it is today.”
Maryland lawmakers are scrambling to close a $1.7 billion budget deficit over two years through fiscal 2004.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said housing programs have taken more than their fair share of budget cuts over the last few years, and they shouldn’t be hit anymore.
After the officials’ remarks, the advocates split off to meet with their legislators, said Kristine Newswanger, spokeswoman for the Maryland Center for Community Development, a Housing Day sponsor.
“Educating legislators is top on our list.”