Lemme be honest with you about something: I didn’t pay attention to this issue at first because quite frankly I didn’t care. But something bugged me about it once I heard a few things. And let’s face it, when there is talk about subsidized housing more than likely it involves my people so I guess I can put my thinking cap on for a minute.
The Verona Apartments in Oakland Mills is about to be sold to the Howard County Housing Commission. Many residents in OM are up in arms about it because 1. they believe the sale will bring more subsidized housing to the village (and they have more than enough of that already). 2. They were not made aware of the sale until very late. John DiTomasso’s letter to the Columbia Flier kinda explained about how residents were kept in the dark about the sale. I’m sure there are some other reasons for this bruhaha but let’s start here.
I did a little bit of digging and got a few answers.
1. This sale won’t exactly bring more subsidized housing to the area. The vacancy rate in the complex is low right now. The Verona is currently operating with 80 percent of the units paying market rate prices. Hopefully they will stay that way (personally I wouldn’t want to include more below market value units. How are you going to make any money that way?)
2. The Housing Commission is not obligated to publicize the sale. It’s a private sale. The current owner made the Commission pinky swear not to tell anyone that they were buying the property. Yeah, I know. That sounds sneaky to me too but apparently that’s how things work in the housing biz. Shake your fist at the owners for keeping you in the dark if you want Mr. DiTomasso.
3. It’s better to have a property owner be based locally than one that is located far away. When companies buy properties long-distance it becomes a royal pain in the neck to get them to give a crap about the property. The residents pay the rent so the company isn’t very vigilant about upkeep and responding to resident concerns. At least this way you know who the Commission is and where they operate. You can go raise holy hell right at their desk if you don’t get some r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
It has also come to my attention that when the Howard County Housing Commission takes over a property and manages it, good things happen. It’s evident in Monarch Mills and Burgess Mills which impressively went from drab to fab. In 10 years, the Commission plans to redevelop the Verona in the same way which would be GREAT for Oakland Mills.
Now plans are one thing but actions are another. As far as how this will play out, we will have to wait and see. Is it really easy for mixed income communities to drop their guards, join in a circle and sing Kumbayah together? Not necessarily. It will take some work for mixed income communities to truly blend and bond. There are a few issues that the low income residents will have to deal with and they may interrupt the bonding process. For example, employment can be a problem for low income residents. Being in a great neighborhood with higher income neighbors won’t get them out of poverty and that’s the goal isn’t it? They will need support and training to help them elevate their employment status from job to career. The other goal is to move low income people from renters to buyers. Home ownership is the ultimate goal (or at least it should be in my opinion). While living next to home owners is nice and possibly inspiring, low income residents need to see that this can happen for them too. Who’s introducing them to the programs that are available to first time home buyers? Who is helping them with things like credit repair and budget planning if needed? Chew on that for a spell. Also, you have to give the residents some kinda reason to interact. It is so easy to go in and out of your home and never interact with your neighbors except at the mailbox (ask me how I know this). What about some community projects that will help build community spirit and help subsidized housing residents feel a little more invested in the community? Yes this is deeper than just pay your rent and don’t trash the front yard and loiter.
There are a few theories out there that suggest that mixed income housing can accomplish a few things such as expanding social networks which can in turn help with job searches. Some people speculate that living around higher income earners will promote some kind of social change and low income people will somehow rise to the occasion. Some others say that the children will see better “role models” around them and be exposed to alternative lifestyles. I even hear and personally believe to some extent that living around higher-income people brings about a certain political influence that will demand a better quality of services and amenities in a neighborhood. Some of these theories are total bull and subtly racist while others might just hit the nail on the head. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
For all you nerds out there, there is plenty of research that suggests that mixed income housing projects can work.
Click here to read the study for the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center
Click here to read some success stories of mixed income communities in Connecticut.
In yesterday’s Washington Post there was an interesting article about mixed income housing in the very chic Capitol Hill section. That area is highly sought after and yet they seem to make it work. Read that.
And click here to read a very good study of mixed income housing with the HOPE VI Program funding.
What I’m trying to say through all my ramblings is give it a chance you Oakland Millers. Don’t be so quick to pull out your torches, tar, and feathers when you hear that one of your buildings is suddenly up for sale. I understand that subsidized housing can cause some anxiety but knowing the facts might alleviate a few fears. Wanna totally relax? Get involved and work tirelessly to build community ties with all the residents so that they all feel invested in the village. Move beyond your prejudice and get to know your neighbors. In due time you can reap the rewards that many Howard Countians strive for; higher property values, exclusivity, more political clout and a Starbucks on every corner.