ANNAPOLIS – Genora Brown has been a homeowner for five years after accepting a $3,000 incentive to live closer to her work, but others haven’t had the same opportunity since the program that provided the grant closed in 2003.
Now one lawmaker has introduced legislation to resuscitate the program that made it possible for Brown to walk to her Johns Hopkins University job.
“I’m a new homeowner and that’s something to be proud of,” said Brown at Thursday’s hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee.
The Live Near Your Work Program began in 1997 to encourage homeownership and reduce commuting long distances by providing an incentive for buying a home close to work.
The state, localities and employers each contributed $1,000 for a total incentive of $3,000.
State funding cuts eliminated the program in 2003.
“It was really just getting off the ground,” said the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore County.
The bill will require that the governor include at least $250,000 annually in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for the Department of Housing and Community Development to fund the program. Funds are not to exceed $500,000.
During the program’s six-year run, the state provided $1.35 million for 997 grants in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Prince Georges County, Montgomery County, College Park, Hagerstown, Westminster and Salisbury.
About 130 employers participated including Johns Hopkins University, The Baltimore Sun Co., Morgan State University, Perdue Farms Inc. and Pepsi Cola Bottling Co.
McIntosh said the return is one of the best parts about this program.
“State dollars leverage more than twice their amount,” McIntosh said.
There was no opposition to the bill at the hearing and McIntosh said the bill had a good chance of passing because of its “very low” cost.
The governor’s office said it had no opinion on the bill.
While the state ended its funding for the program, Baltimore City continued to participate, providing a total of $2,000 for each family from the city and the employer.
The program has aided more than 300 families over the past two years.
Homes were purchased at an average cost of $93,776 and had a median cost of $830,000, according to a report released by The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
About 56 percent of the new homebuyers had an annual household income of $50,000 or less, the report also revealed.
Still, the city is ready for the state to join the program again.
“We are ready, willing and able to be the third party,” said Kenneth J. Strong, homeowners’ office director of the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development.
Employers and local jurisdictions can decide how far the person must live from their work to qualify. Some jurisdictions paid the incentive for people to live in certain, underpopulated areas.
Westminster Mayor Kevin Dayhoff said the program has helped revitalize his city by increasing families and citizens.
“A small amount of money can make a big difference when a young family purchases a home,” he said.
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, an Environmental Matters Committee member, said the program has a variety of benefits.
“It encourages people to live where they work, while preventing congestion and improving the environment,” he said.
Delegate Barry Glasman, R-Harford, also a committee member, called it a ” laudable program.”