WASHINGTON – The Washington suburbs have twice the rate of overcrowded rental housing as the rest of the state, according to an analysis of housing and Census data provided by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
The 2000 Census data shows that 14.7 percent of rental households in Prince George’s County were overcrowded and 11.9 percent were overcrowded in Montgomery County. Statewide, 7.7 percent of rental housing was overcrowded in 2000.
An overcrowded home is any in which per room of the house, which includes living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms, but not kitchens and bathrooms.
Advocates and officials said the explanation is simple — too many people and not enough affordable housing.
“One of the reasons that we have crowding is because of a shortage of available and affordable units,” said Massoud Ahmadi, director of research at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
That shortage may push families into more expensive rental units, forcing them to share apartments with relatives to ease the financial strain, he said.
The housing department said there was a shortage of affordable and available rental properties that totaled 65,000 units statewide in 1990. By 2000, that deficit had grown to 76,000 units, and officials said they expect the shortfall to continue to grow.
Ahmadi said that over the past five years, public and private groups have added just 4,400 affordable housing units a year, where “affordable” is defined as rental housing that costs less than 30 percent of a family’s monthly income.
Ahmadi said the state is “taking significant steps to actually overcome the challenge of the shortage gap.” The department hopes to increase development by various organizations to 6,200 units per year to ease the shortage, he said.
That approach makes sense to Joe Giloley, Montgomery County’s chief of Housing and Code Enforcement.
“There’s a lot of overcrowding going on in the county and the only way to address it is to produce some more housing,” he said.
Giloley said the county’s goal it to have groups add 1,000 affordable units every year, either by building them or bringing them up to code. So far, he said, that goal has been exceeded: Last year, 3,000 affordable housing units were built in the county or brought up to code, he said.
Montgomery also requires developers to set aside affordable units for every 35 units they build, and it requires that at least 2.5 percent of the county’s property tax receipts or $15 million go to the Housing Initiative Fund, which is used for housing construction and preservation.
“Montgomery County has very few vacant units, period,” he said.
In Prince George’s County, housing development has been slowed by a county restriction on new construction unless police and fire departments can meet certain emergency response times in that area.
A county council spokesman said the measure is meant to ensure public safety as the county grows, but the net effect is to slow development and increase crowding in an already over-crowded county, said F. Hamer Campbell Jr., legislative liaison for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association.
“The county has to allow more units to be built,” Campbell said.
Even though they are not as wealthy as the Washington suburbs, other counties around the state say they are able to enjoy relatively low levels of overcrowded housing because there is sufficient housing and not as many people to drive up demand.
“We’re really still rural, so overcrowded households really doesn’t enter into the picture,” said Bill DeVore, a planner with the Garrett County Department of Planning and Zoning.
Garrett, with 30,000 people spread over the largest county in the state, has the lowest number of people per square mile, he said. It also has the lowest rate of rental overcrowding, at 1.3 percent of units.
DeVore said the county is facing a shortage of low-income housing, but that there are projects underway to build 60 more low and mid-income housing units by 2006.
Allegany County is not as worried about housing as about occupants: The county’s population has declined steadily since 1960, said David Eberly, the county’s director of community services. Allegany had the second-lowest crowding rate in the state, at 1.5 percent.
The county does have housing programs for low- and middle-income renters, such as the Cumberland and Frostburg Housing Authority, the county’s Housing Services Division, and Interfaith Housing, which aids low-income homebuyers. But Eberly said county leaders are more focused on maintaining population than preventing crowding.
“We’re the antithesis of Prince George’s and Montgomery County,” he said.
-30- CNS 12-15-04