Housing

Legislators ponder ways to entice developers and combat homelessness

*CORRECTION APPENDED

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – Maryland legislators are considering how to entice private developers to build more homes for low-income families as affordable housing in Maryland is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and lawmakers are particularly worried about unaccompanied youth left without stable shelter.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness is taking steps toward crafting a bill that would provide financial benefits to for-profit and nonprofit developers for building affordable housing units, according to Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore.

“Consistently, we are hearing that one of the barriers around housing and stability is the high price of housing,” Washington, one of the committee chairs, said last week. “So we want to incentivize people to build affordable housing.”

About 72 percent of extremely low-income households in Maryland pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing expenses, according to census data from 2011-2015.

This makes owning, or renting, a living space incredibly difficult and risky, according to United Way of Central Maryland CEO Franklyn Baker.

“There’s no rain plan or safety net if you get sick” or have other emergencies, Baker said.

A crucial factor for affordable housing for low-income households is funding from state and federal governments.

One key program is the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which provides states an annual allocation based on population. Last year, Maryland was awarded $13.8 million in these tax credits to distribute to developers, according to Novogradac and Co.

Under the program, private developers agree to provide housing to low-income families at below market value. The residences must remain affordable for 30 years, when the agreement between developers and the government expires.

After three decades, private developers maintain control of the property and can charge what they wish.

Across the various programs within the state last year, developers requested $93 million in total funding, yet only $47.5 million was awarded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

Of that, developers requested $56.5 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, but only $27.5 million was awarded between federal tax credits and state subsidies, according to the Affordable Housing Resource Center.

Developers of more than 3,500 affordable housing units in Maryland sought funding this year, but only 43 percent, or 1,505 units, were funded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

The tax credits for nearly 35 percent of federally subsidized housing in Maryland will expire by 2020, meaning that those residences will no longer be set aside as affordable housing, according to the National Housing Preservation Database.

Owners of the developments would have to re-apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and therefore sacrifice potential profits at market value, according to Odette Ramos, executive director of Community Development Network of Maryland.

These public-private agreements are critical to providing affordable housing to impoverished communities, so the Community Development Network of Maryland is asking the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to help allocate money for these projects, Ramos said.

Representatives from the Community Development Network of Maryland also called the 1999 Assisted Affordable Housing Preservation Act outdated, and suggested that the state update its local laws and practices. The act does not require property owners to contact local social services, which creates a disconnect and leaves families without benefits, Ramos said.

Many of those without housing in Maryland are young adults who have issues with drugs, teen pregnancy, or other issues out of their control, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

Additionally, nearly 70 percent of youth entering out-of-home placement, which includes foster care, had prior issues with neglect, causing developmental and psychological problems, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

In 2015, over the course of three weeks, 1,223 people younger than 25 were surveyed in homeless shelters and through affiliated agencies in eight jurisdictions as part of a Youth REACH MD survey. It found 834 of the youths surveyed were unaccompanied by a guardian and homeless.

In another, “point in time” 2015 survey of unaccompanied youth, the Maryland Department of Human Resources found 474 unaccompanied youth living in non-traditional housing, according to Amanda Miller with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Even for children with guardians to care for them, though, life can be difficult.

State Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s County, recounted a story of visiting Prince George’s County’s Shepherd’s Cove Women’s shelter and witnessing more than 60 children with their parents and unable to get services parent.

“I must say, it is very difficult for me to sit on this committee,” Benson said. “These services are absent for them and they’ve lost hope. Homelessness is unacceptable.”

 

* In an earlier version of this story, a survey year and results were incorrect. The state’s survey of 1,223 young people found 834 unaccompanied youths, and was conducted in 2015, but published in 2016. Capital News Service regrets the errors.