WASHINGTON – Dorchester County and Baltimore City do not have much in common, save one distinctive feature — a relatively high percentage of their homes do not have complete plumbing.
In Dorchester, one out of every 77 occupied households got by without complete plumbing facilities, the highest rate in the state, according to 2000 Census data. While Baltimore had the highest number of occupied homes lacking complete plumbing — 2,068 homes, or more one-fifth of the state total — its rate of one home in every 125 was seventh-highest in the state.
They were two of 10 Maryland jurisdictions that exceeded the national average of homes without full plumbing, evidence of lingering pockets of poverty in a state that is generally among the wealthiest in the nation. Maryland had the nation’s 11th-best rate overall for complete plumbing facilities, the bureau said.
“A lot of it is economics, with tax bases, where the money is coming from,” said Kevin Brooks, director of the Maryland Rural Community Assistance Partnership.
“Dorchester is a growing community now, but historically has been agriculture and water-based. Other than the town of Cambridge, it is made up of small rural areas,” he said.
Dorchester County Council President Glenn Bramble agreed that many of the “outhouse” homes in the county are owned by residents too poor to install a toilet and sink — and too proud to ask for help.
“Most of these folks are from the older generation — farmers, watermen,” said Bramble, who believes his 1st District has the highest number of such homes in the county. “They’re very independent. They have a lot of pride and I respect them for that.
“They don’t want handouts. They’ll do without,” he said.
Baltimore officials said that city residents without complete plumbing were likely those who are forced to go without hot water. Homes without hot water are classified as having incomplete plumbing, according to the Census, even if the facilities are otherwise complete.
“As far as we know there hasn’t been an outhouse in Baltimore city in 30 years,” said Steve Janes, Baltimore’s assistant commissioner for research and strategic planning. “It’s not a problem, and I’m surprised that we’re so high up the list.”
City residents without hot water may choose not to pay for the service because of the cost, said Tom Jaudon, director of the city’s Office of Rehabilitation and Weatherization.
Janes said those residents know that if they pay for hot water, their “costs are going to go up, and they’re going to go through anything not to pay that bill.”
The city is addressing problems, like plumbing shortfalls, by providing loans to low-income residents for home repairs. Janes and Jaudon said that about 30 percent of all loan requests received in their office are for water fixture replacements.
Kent County is also working to provide services such as low-interest loans to those without indoor plumbing, says Wayne Morris, director of the rural county’s office of water and wastewater services.
Kent has the third-highest percentage of homes in without adequate facilities in Maryland and Morris said that, just like Dorchester, there still exist enclaves of 10 to 15 homes that mainly live off hand pumps and outdoor privies.
For Bramble, the problem in his county is not a lack of public assistance programs, but a disregard for them by some of his constituents.
“They’re survivors, self-sufficient, they’ve lived off the land,” he said. “They’re not going to be coming to you with their hands out.”
-30- CNS 09-17-04