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New Cultural Center Part 2: Concentration of Affordable Housing

Note: As soon as November 16, the Howard County Council may be deciding the fate of the New Cultural Center. This is the second in a series of posts addressing some of the common arguments and misconceptions that I have heard opposing the project. This series marks a temporary departure from my typical news-focused blogs and analysis. It should be no secret that I am a supporter of developing a vibrant Downtown Columbia, and I believe the NCC should be a prominent part of our redevelopment for a myriad of reasons. This series leans a bit further into my own point of view and opinion than you may be used to from this blog, but it still comes from a heavily-researched and informed perspective. I encourage dialogue in agreement with or opposed to my ideas in the comments on my website or social media posts.

Misconception #2: Downtown Columbia already has a high concentration of affordable housing. We should not be adding more affordable housing to Downtown Columbia.

There is a shortage of affordable housing available in Howard County for low- and moderate-income families. The Howard County Housing Commission estimates that Howard County has a housing shortage of 5,000 units for County residents with household income less than $50,000.

Affordable Housing is desirable in close proximity to job centers, transportation, areas with good schools, and community services – exactly what we have envisioned creating in Downtown Columbia. The anticipated benefits of the Downtown Columbia Master plan include the creation of 19,500 new jobs, the generation of $2.5 billion in wage income, and more than $11 million in annual net tax revenues to the county.

Affordable housing allows people from different economic backgrounds to share in the prosperity of affluent areas like ours - gaining access to great schools, jobs, and opportunities, which helps create a path for upwards economic mobility. Segregated neighborhoods and racial inequalities are a byproduct of prosperous areas like ours not having enough housing options that are accessible to people of all income levels and backgrounds. That is why many people who support social justice and combating economic inequality recognize the importance of housing and density projects like the New Cultural Center.

As it is, Columbia is already a high-opportunity area. Our excellent schools, high quality of life standards, and employment opportunities provide children who grow up here a chance to obtain greater financial success than their parents. Add in a dense vibrant downtown, and our opportunities increase immensely given all the jobs that will be located here. Downtown's development should abide by the Columbia ethos of being a place that is accessible to all. To oppose affordable housing as part of the downtown Columbia master plan is to deny opportunity from all those to stand most to benefit.

It is certainly true Howard County’s existing stock of affordable housing is concentrated in the areas in and around Downtown Columbia. We absolutely need to add affordable housing throughout the entire county and not just concentrate it in Columbia. But, opposing affordable housing where it can have the biggest benefit - is not the answer. Instead, if the concern truly is that there would be too great a concentration of lower-income households in Downtown Columbia, then let me suggest an alternative. Over the coming years and decades as Downtown’s development continues, we need smart planning to ensure that a full spectrum of housing options are included Downtown that accommodate households of different sizes, income levels and ages/stages of life including families, singles, couples and older adults.  I'd love to see future Downtown Columbia plans include, but certainly not be limited to, dense urban-style homes that would be appealing and affordable to first-time home-buyers. And if you suggest there is not enough land in Downtown Columbia to include townhomes, duplexes, and/or small tightly packed single family homes, I'll show you a dying mall with acres and acres of land being wasted by large surface parking lots and bankrupt department stores that would be ideal for the continued retrofit of Downtown Columbia into a more equitable sustainable sociable community.



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