SALISBURY – Since arriving from Pennsylvania three years ago, Pattie Taylor has wandered from one address to another in Salisbury in search of an affordable place to call home.
But her search invariably ended at the Christian Shelter, an emergency homeless facility.
“On my income, I can’t afford it,” Taylor, 41, said of her search for affordable housing. “And for low-income housing, there’s a two- to three-year waiting list.”
But across town, another recent arrival has a different story to tell.
Working in the two-car garage of his newly built home in Steeplechase, a luxury residential development, Mike D’Agostino described his home, priced in the upper-$200,000s.
“If I were to have this same property in Southern Maryland, it would be $150,000 more,” said D’Agostino, who moved from Charles County.
Taylor and D’Agostino represent what planners and researchers say is a deepening divide between two distinct groups on the Eastern Shore — wealthier homebuyers from out of town and lower-income, often longtime, residents.
As newcomers flock to the Shore from surrounding counties and states, property and rental values increase and residential development grows, leading to less affordable housing for moderate and low-income residents, experts say.
“We are definitely not one Maryland,” said Memo Diriker, director of Salisbury University’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network, or BEACON. “The gap between the haves and the have-nots has been widening.”
While they could not point to hard statistical data showing the gap, local organizations serving lower-income residents said that they have seen higher demand for their services in recent years, thanks to an increasing number of people who are finding it more difficult to live in the region.
“They’re building houses like mad and it raises all prices associated with housing,” said Jim Barnes, administrator of the Christian Shelter. “(Prices) have gone up so high that people who at one time could make it with their families no longer can.”
Barnes said the number of people served by his shelter has increased by 80 percent since 2001. Most of his clients now are longtime area residents, many of whom found their way to the shelter after losing their homes or jobs.
“The area is growing and prospering, but at the same time, homelessness is increasing,” Barnes said. “One of the unintended consequences of the success of an area is that there are people who can’t keep up with the success.”
In Wicomico County, where Christian Shelter is located, the income gap has only begun to widen, said Lisa Hartman, project coordinator for the Tri-County Alliance for the Homeless.
But planners in Eastern Shore counties like Talbot, Dorchester and Queen Anne’s say that along with a sharp rise in property values in the last several years has come an undeniable affordable housing crunch for moderate- and low-income residents.
“The cost of living is so different from the Western Shore, and it’s pricing out a lot of the people here who can’t afford to buy property because of prices that (out-of-town) people are willing to pay, even above market value,” said Karen Houtman, Dorchester County’s assistant director of planning.
Middle-income residents are also being squeezed, said Cheryl Meadows, executive director of the Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Service.
“The housing market is crazy here. There is nothing that I can say is a good purchase price for middle-income residents,” Meadows said. “It’s either property that is in dire need of repair and is cheap, or it’s $200,000-plus.”
Local real estate agents disagreed, saying that even though prices have gone up, there is still something for everyone.
“It’s very well-rounded. It’s everything,” said Chuck Mangold, a partner at Benson and Mangold, which has offices in Talbot County. “Our settlements have ranged from a $25,000 inland lot to a $14 million estate. . . . We have products for everybody.”
Long and Foster sales associate Heidi Temple agreed, saying her Easton office serves all income levels, and that homes with the highest value increases have remained affordably priced from about $150,000 to $500,000.
But planners describe the affordable housing market as dire, particularly as demand for waterfront and other developed property continues to escalate.
“For (residents) coming from the Western Shore counties or New Jersey or New York, prices seem good to them, but for people who have been living here for years, it’s high,” said Steve Cohoon, development review chief for Queen Anne’s County.
“I’ve seen prices go up across the county, which has made it difficult for lower-income people to stay,” he added.
Cohoon included professionals such as teachers, police officers, local government staffers and service industry workers in the growing group that is struggling, and said that his county is working to make housing more affordable for such workers.
At the Maryland Food Bank in Salisbury, as many as 45 percent of the current clients are working families, said branch manager Yvonne Terry.
“We’re helping a different kind of need now,” Terry said. “Before, it was more low-income homeless. Now, we’re helping a lot of families that are working, but are having a hard time making ends meet.”
For Taylor, the Pennsylvania transplant, making ends meet just got a little easier. She was able to move out of Christian Shelter on Friday when she started a job as a live-in companion for an elderly woman. But had she not landed a job that included living accommodations, Taylor said she would still be struggling with homelessness.
Another Christian Shelter resident, Harvey Tubbs, said he is thankful that he has a place to stay, even if it’s only temporary.
“The alternative is being out on the streets,” he said.
-30- CNS 12-15-04