house with for sale sign
This single-family home for sale on Delwood Avenue near the Arrowhead subdivision showed prices above $600,000 in online listings in mid-February. Locally and in other parts of the country, affordable housing is in short supply. (TBM / Jason Whong)

The population in Anne Arundel County in 2010 was 539,305. It rose 9.5% to 590,336 in 2021, according to USAFacts.

That gain sounds positive from an economic development standpoint. In residential real estate, it can boost demand, prices and equity in one’s home. And it would seem to increase the depth of the workforce pool, too.

However, large businesses trying to build a workforce have found that one person’s rise in home value means that another person can’t afford to live in the neighborhood.

“This is an issue across the country,” said Allison Pickard, Anne Arundel County Councilmember from District 2. The issue complicates doing business for large employers, from Northrop Grumman Corp and Live! Casino & Hotel to Fort Meade, its contractor community and the teaching pool and support staff for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, among others.

Lack of land

Pickard has often heard is that this problem is a factor among businesses and/or their (potential) employees not planting local roots or even moving to the county at all. “On that note, I’m hearing likewise from local business owners who are building a staff, while also dealing with transportation issues.

“This isn’t a crisis for citizens who already own a home,” she said, “but there are young professionals who are paying exorbitant amounts of money more than 30 percent of their income for rent. And that makes it harder to save money for a down payment to get into a home, then pay the monthly mortgage.”

As the issue concerns the AACPS, “The county already imports teachers, mainly from Pennsylvania, to work here,” Pickard said, “but they need quality housing when they come here so we can retain them here. If we can’t provide it, they’ll get the experience here and move elsewhere.”

And building more multiunit housing projects is a challenge. “There isn’t much land left in central Maryland, but people still want to live here,” she said. “We’ve downzoned in Anne Arundel over the years, which has lessened density. That means there is hardly any land left for new multifamily housing in the county.”

Most of Anne Arundel’s remaining undeveloped residential property is zoned R-1, “which is one dwelling per acre,” Pickard said, “and that means a McMansion, which prices out the majority of our workforce.”

Cost burdens

Erin Karpewicz, CEO with Arundel Community Development Services, in Annapolis, made similar observations while noting the impact of the recent inflation in the overall housing market.

“We just conducted a rental needs assessment and rental housing costs have risen about 5% per year for the past three years, so the cost has compounded,” said Karpewicz. “That means renters who were paying $1,600 per month three years ago are now paying $1,880 per month. It’s hard for people to find affordable units, even if they’re getting government assistance.”

Today, she said, “about 25% of county residents are renters and 45% of them pay more than 30% of their income for gross rent.” That means many citizens “are cost-burdened, so they have less money for food, gas and medicine, the prices for which also are also rising.”

So what’s a step in the right direction? “We need more housing choices at different income levels located throughout the county to support a diverse workforce,” said Karpewicz.

Today, it’s hard to find first-time, middle-income buyers, especially with the recent boost in interest rates. “For example, to buy a $455,000 house, your household income would need to be $139,000 per year,” she said, “and that’s without factoring in a down payment.

“And know that $139,000,” said Karpewicz, “is 120 percent of our area’s median home price.”

She added that Anne Arundel’s housing costs are comparable to those in Howard, where Kelly Cimino, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said, “We don’t have much land left in the county zoned for housing, as is the case in Anne Arundel.

“There are no vacant units in the county,” said Cimino, noting Howard’s low rate of about 3 to 4%. “Demand for units for lower-income residents far exceeds the supply.”

Which calls for action. “We’re going through our general plan update and we want to make changes” to the current policy via the HoCo By Design Plan, said Cimino. “Addressing this problem is the big challenge. It will be debated all year,” with the vote on the new plan, which will set policy for the next 10 years, set for October.

Like Karpewicz, Jeff Bronow, chief of the research division with Howard’s Department of Planning and Zoning, pointed out that Howard also has inclusionary zoning, which in this case applies to “between 10-20%” of the units in a given project. So if a 200-unit apartment or condo complex is built along the Route 1 Corridor, for example, a percentage is included depending on the zoning category.”

Howard also has a moderate housing program that was enhanced with its 2013 comprehensive zoning plan. “At that point, it was expanded from being required in higher density zones like RA-15 for apartments and townhomes, to lower density zones,” said Bronow, “where single-family homes are built.”

He added that the Downtown Columbia Plan also has its own affordable element.

Making plans

As for government action in Anne Arundel, Karpowicz said the county committed $10 million to seed an affordable housing trust fund in the fiscal 2023 budget. “We’re making some of those funds available as low-interest loan financing to developers to build new affordable rental units.

“We also have funding available for first-time moderate-income home buyers who make 80 percent of the area median (that’s about $89,000 per year for the household) for a down payment and closing fund assistance,” she said. “However, with high home prices and those rising interest rates, we’re having a hard time finding buyers in that income category to utilize the money.”

So ACDS is also looking at other options, she said, including “increasing the amount of assistance or exploring options to buy down the mortgages interest rates.” 

Meanwhile, Anne Arundel’s population is still heading north, albeit more slowly.

“Our county is still growing, but it’s still only 1% per year,” said Pickard, “but we’re a job center, too. So our growth needs to equate to an ample supply of housing.”