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Monday, April 25, 2016

Kittamaqundi Community Church's response to homelessness in Howard County

      We have all known that one of the biggest challenges we face as a growing community is the lack of affordable housing.  Our community has been successfully attracting businesses that provide jobs that pay employees well.  We have high paying jobs from employers like the federal government, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and the National Security Agency. We have a school system that is the envy of other communities.  Our community is frequently listed on "the best of " lists put together by national magazines.  Howard County ranks 2nd in median income in the entire the United  States.  All of these attributes give us a healthy growing community that enhances the quality of life in our community.  Unfortunately the downside to these attributes is that we have a very high cost of housing.  This is particularly hard for young families and especially single parent families who want to live in Howard County.
      So this leads me back to this question-- whose responsibility is it to try and develop affordable housing in our expensive community?  Certainly the County Government has a responsibility to provide affordable housing.  County Government has a housing voucher program for low income families that subsidizes rent costs.  This program usually has a long waiting list for vouchers.  County Government also has developed some moderate income housing for County residents that meet certain income requirement.  The County has some limited number of properties for sale to applicants through a lottery system.  Finally, some affordable housing can be created by developers with the County permitting greater density of housing and developers giving funds to a non profit organization to help subsidize housing costs.
      So will these sources of affordable housing meet the needs of low income families wanting to live  and work in Howard County?  For many workers in low to moderate wage jobs in Howard County the answer is no.  Many workers with families live outside of the County or live precariously paying 50-60% or more of their income for housing.  This can lead to families becoming homeless when one life event makes them unable to pay their rent. This reality led one local congregation to look at how they could begin to address this need.

     The Kittamaqundi Community Church had participated in the Cold Weather Shelter program run by Grassroots during the winter months.  This experience put a human face on the problem of homelessness in Howard County.  Members of the congregation could see families and children no different than their own families struggling with just having a warm place to spend the night.  While they felt it was important to be there for these families one week each Winter it didn't seem like it was a long term solution to the problem that these families were facing.  Because the concern they decided to raise the funds to purchase a unit of housing for one family.  This article in the Baltimore Sun talks about how they did it.  They raised enough money to pay cash for the condo so any rent collected could pay for up keep and maintenance and hopefully provide some funds for purchase of additional housing.  Most other faith based efforts provide housing homeless families on an emergency or transitional basis.  The Kittamaqundi Community Church program recognizes that the need maybe more long term and ongoing.  Many times there is no place for these families to transition to in Howard County.
     So how will Howard County ever provide enough affordable housing so that families don't face the prospect of being homeless?  While government and private developers share a major responsibility to address this need the example provided by the Kittamaquandi Community Church shows how all of us can join in this effort with some commitment to the goal of ending homelessness in Howard County.


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