Baltimore County renews focus on affordable housing development

by Ballard Spahr LLP

Earlier this week, the Baltimore County Department of Planning hosted a forum for the affordable housing development community as a part of its renewed commitment to expanding affordable housing opporunities in Baltimore County. Andrea Van Arsdale, Director of the County’s Department of Planning, announced that it is the County’s goal to see 1,000 new affordable units developed in “areas of opportunity” in the County in the next decade, 50% of which have 3 or more bedrooms and 10% of which are targeted to persons with diabilities. In connection with this goal, the Department of Planning announced that the County is making available $30,000,000 in funds over the next 10 years to support affordable housing development, with $6,000,000 available this year.

The County’s forum focused on three main topics — using public funds, leveraging public funds with private financing and subsidy layering. Mary Ann Henderson, Director of Multifamily Housing from HUD’s Baltimore Hub, outlined the FHA insurance program, highlighting the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program, which is designed to encourage the development of affordable units in market rate developments (access a prior blog post about this program here). Pat Sylvester, the Director of Multifamily Housing at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), described the various state funding programs available for affordable housing and DHCD’s funding priorities for those programs. Marsha Parham, Executive Director of the County Office of Housing, described her office’s efforts as they relate to available Section 8 rental assistance.

The balance of the program focused on the perspective of private equity and debt providers and housing developers. Private debt and equity providers emphasized that aggressive underwriting does not work in affordable housing and, for that reason, affordable housing deals almost always require a form of “soft” debt or other state or local contribution (e.g., below market land contributions or tax incentives). Local devleopers used examples of recent projects to demonstrate the intracacies of public-private partnerships and balancing the many requirements that come with the multiple layers of financing.

The forum ended with the County’s request for input on what it could be doing better to encourage affordable housing development. Responses included:

  • enacting an inclusionary housing requirement or otherwise demonstrating the County’s ”political will” to support affordable housing development
  • clearly articulating the types of projects the County would support
  • consider relaxing the focus on projects with 3 or more bedrooms because they are challenging to finance
  • establishing a housing agency to access the State’s Partnership Rental Housing Program
  • selling County-owned land for affordable housing projects
  • using a Choice Neighborhood grant to educate County citizens on the benefits of affordable housing.

The County’s outreach to the development community to promote affordable housing development is certainly encouraging and, together with the County’s commitment to provide $30,000,000 to support affordable housing development in the next 10 years, will hopefully cause houisng developers to take another look at the County. Copies of the materials presented at the County’s forum can be accessed here – Baltimore County Developer Forum Slides.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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