Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Small Step Toward A Big Goal - Affordable Housing

According to the Howard County Times, Ken Ulman has offered a bill that would provide assistance with the cost of housing in the county to Howard County Police Officers.

Ulman's bill, submitted April 3, would create a directory of apartments that offer free or reduced rent to county police officers. The county government would also take a "proactive" approach in encouraging landlords to participate in the program, Ulman said. . . "This isn't a free gift to police," Ulman said. "The communities are benefiting from the added security a police officer with a take-home car brings."
We all know how expensive housing is in Howard County, so I think this is good idea. There have been concerns expressed about police officers opening themselves to ethical problems if they received housing at reduced rates.

"Hypothetically, you could have a situation where an officer feels pressure to act a certain way because he's getting free rent from a property owner," Merdon said. "If he sees the office manager with marijuana, does he feel pressure to turn a blind eye? It's something for the Ethics Commission to review."
I believe these concerns can be addressed through regulations and oversight. Besides, government employees have been given access to many different discount programs in the past with very little problems that I’m aware of. The bigger issue is the scope of the program proposed by Ulman. I believe it should be expanded to all civil servants who are within certain income brackets. And that is mentioned in the Times article.

County teachers union president Ann DeLacy said she would like to see the bill expanded to include all county employees. "It would be beneficial to all people categorized as public servants, who aren't as highly paid as those in the private sector," she said. "It would be an induction for those people to reside in the county, which would give them a better understanding of the dynamics of the county." . . Ulman added that he would consider adding other public servants to the program in future years, should the measure pass the five-member County Council.
Ken Ulman deserves credit for attempting to address a serious problem in Howard County. Ultimately, however, all of this discussion is just skirting the issue of affordable housing. If we want to have a vibrant, diverse community to live in, we have to figure out how to provide housing for people who have modest and/or limited incomes, especially, if we want our parents and grandparents to age in place in the county. The original vision of Columbia was a community which was racially, economically and socially diverse. We need to renew that vision and apply it to all of Howard County. And we need to do it now.

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