Where Dreams Go to Die
Baltimore County seems on the verge of moving forward with the publicly funded redevelopment of the site of the former Kingsley Park Apartments in Essex.
Ground hasn’t been broken and the county has already spent $2.1 million to demolish the original housing project and relocate the families, 18 acres of land has been transferred to the selected developer, and the county has pledged $4.1 million in subsidies to the developer. The previous owner, the one that managed the now demolished Kingsley Park Apartments, had $11 million in state and federal loans forgiven in the process.
When all is said and done the county will have spent $21 million on the project.
Most of us would look at this and say, gee, why doesn’t the county simply auction off this 18 acre parcel to the highest bidder and recoup the money it has already sunk into acquiring the land and razing the existing buildings? That, my friend, is why we aren’t Democrat county commissioners.
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From the solicitation for the project:
The plan consists of the following elements:
Unit types and work force housing:
- 78 to 84 senior rental units, to seniors (62 and over) earning up to 60 percent of area median income
- 21 “for sale” homes to families earning 60 percent to 80 percent of area median income
- 45 “for sale” homes to families earning 81 percent to 115 percent of area median income
- 50 “for sale” market rate units of the 116 for sale units
Of the 116 “for sale” units
- 43 are town homes
- 73 are single family detached
There are lots of things governments do well. Managing housing stock is simply not one of them. We all know how this movie ends. Managing income distribution of residents on a micro-scale is simply not manageable and over time it is simply impossible unless extraordinary steps are taken. For instance, one DC housing nonprofit conveys only the title to the house to the buyer and keeps title to the land itself and limits the resale value of the home.
If the area is desirable, a certain number of the subsidized buyers of the homes will immediately remarket the properties or enter into a lease-to-own arrangement. Town homes, even in the best developments, gravitate toward being rentals simply because the demand for them is perennially soft.
Unless the management company is both diligent and merciless, the subsidized rentals for “seniors” inevitably bring hangers on. Anyone who has owned a rental property knows how difficult it is to ensure that the only people staying in your property are those on the lease. If you don’t have a financial interest in keeping the property free of unauthorized residents and do have an interest in minimizing tenant complaints about you then it is much tougher.
I’m not familiar with Essex, but I’d be willing to wager that what happens here will be much closer to what happened at Sursum Corda in Washington DC than what is going on in Columbia, MD or Reston, VA.