By Allison Trobiano and Melissa Moore
STEVENSVILLE – Queen Anne’s County, which has seen basic living costs nearly double in 10 years, has so many residents seeking help with housing that it has closed its waiting lists. Some families on the lists will be waiting up to eight years for openings in housing programs, county officials say.
“We are in tough times, and people are losing their homes and their jobs and they need assistance,” said Mike Clark, director of housing and family services for Queen Anne’s.
Heather Focht, 34, a Queen Anne’s resident who lost her job last year, said that she and her 2-year-old daughter had to move in with her mother while Focht looked for jobs and took classes at University of Maryland University College.
“It is just hard,” she said. “I honestly just can’t afford to live on my own right now.” Clark said that residents who have applied recently to services including the Rental Allowance Program include people who had no need to ask for assistance before. They tend to be unfamiliar with the process, he said, and also are reluctant to ask for help.
The Rental Allowance Program, which provides help with rent for a year, has a waiting list of six to eight years. The county subsidizes the rent for the units, which range from rooms in private homes to apartments and single-family homes, through funds provided by the state. But the county only has enough money to cover about 20 families a year and that has contributed to the long waiting list, Clark said.
Queen Anne’s population is 47,798 — with 5.5 percent living below the poverty level.
“When you only have enough money to serve a certain number of people but the demand is high, the list starts to add up,” Clark said.
A recent study, the Maryland Self-Sufficiency Standard for 2012, found that the cost of basic needs for a family of three living in Queen Anne’s almost doubled from $33,855 in 2001 to $65,072 in 2012.
The study also found that housing costs went up 110 percent. Queen Anne’s County has the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in Maryland, with a rate of 1 in 959.
The unemployment rate for jobs within the county has increased over the past five years and has led to an increase in residents who commute outside of the county to work. Five years ago, 60 percent of residents left the county for their jobs. Today, that figure is 85 percent.