By Amalia Ehrmann and Maria Pia Negro
LANDOVER -Now scattered shoes of different sizes and styles greet visitors in the foyer.
Space is tight. Ali’s older sister crammed all her belongings into the room where she and her children, 6 and 4, have beds. Ali’s room used to be a small office.
Sometimes, she said, she wishes for more privacy. But, like many other Marylanders, she’s found she cannot afford to pay rent on her own.
The high cost of housing is putting an economic strain on many people in Maryland. Housing officials and advocacy groups report a sharp increase in people doubling up with relatives or friends. Meanwhile, homeless shelters report an increase in families seeking help.
Nationally, about 19.7 million households doubled up in 2007, or included at least one additional adult. Last year, that number climbed to 21.8 million, census data shows.
Doubling up — where relatives or friends move in together to share the cost of housing — is a national trend. The recession saw a disproportionate increase in the number of doubled-up households compared to the increase of total households, according to a census working paper prepared by Suzanne Macartney, a census poverty analyst.
Young, unmarried adults aged 25 to 34 — which includes Ali — and people who were not in the work force were more likely to live in shared households, the census reported last year.
“People often pay more than 60 percent of their income on their rent, which makes it difficult to afford everything else,” said Pam DeCicco, the program director at Bridges to Housing Stability, a non-profit organization in Howard County that helps working families struggling with housing costs.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition listed Maryland as the fourth most expensive jurisdiction for housing in the United States. It would take about 3.4 full-time, minimum-wage jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment here, the coalition reported.
Renters living alone in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County must make $28.96 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the “fair market” monthly rate of $1,506, the coalition reported. In Baltimore County, Howard County and Anne Arundel County, where the average rents are cheaper, workers must earn an hourly wage of $23.67.
Housing counselors in Howard and Montgomery County noticed the increase in the number of doubled-up households after the recession started in 2007.
The high cost of housing is also one of the reasons more families end up homeless, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness reported. According to a 2009 Housing and Urban Development survey, Maryland had about 1,675 homeless families on a given night. That was a 17 percent increase in homeless families from the 2005 count.
The largest concentrations of homeless families are in highly populated areas with high foreclosure and eviction rates, such as Baltimore, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, the institute reported.
Julie Maltzman, the deputy director for programs at the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, said doubling up after someone loses their home is often a first step toward homelessness.
She said the federal definition of homelessness was expanded last year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to include those who could no longer double up. These people would be eligible for increased programs and benefits.
“Then comes a time when the people who have the lease or own the property run out of patience, and sometimes (the renters) become at risk of losing their housing because of the overcrowding,” Maltzman said. “The reasons definitely include code enforcements or lease violations, or too many people for a subsidy such as the Section 8 Voucher Program.”
After the recession began, housing subsidy programs in several counties saw more families struggling to pay for housing. Prince George’s County has 5,100 people waiting for county-owned public housing units and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Howard County has 5,215 people waiting to see if they qualify.
The lack of vacancies, higher demand and a reduction in federal funding drove up the numbers on the waiting lists.
The wait for a voucher in Montgomery could take many years. More than 26,000 households are on the waiting list but only 400 units open every year, said Doug Ryan, of Montgomery’s Housing Opportunities Commission.
Macartney’s census analysis suggests that sharing a household reduces the impact of poverty. Young adults who live with their parents had a poverty rate of 8.4 percent, because the income of the whole family is taken into account, according to the census. If their income alone were considered, more than 45 percent of those same young adults would be considered to be living in poverty.
For Ali, moving in with her father has advantages and downsides. She is working on a doctorate in psychology at Howard University, and sometimes it’s hard studying at home, with the children playing around the large dinner table. With seven other people in the house, it feels crowded, and she wishes she could find some quiet moments.
Ali plans to move within a year and said she wants to live in a place like Waldorf where she could get the same benefits — being close to Washington and Baltimore — that Prince George’s County has to offer, but at a more affordable price.