Right the Blight for ALL
There is much talk about creating more affordable housing in the County. There will be a lot of different methods discussed, on how it is best to do that, in the coming preparations for our Zoning Regulations update in the coming months. You will hear many questions regarding older neighborhoods’ characters changing. Many of these concerns deal with parking, traffic, population sharing of public services, overpopulation effects on the schools, the environment, job availability, etc. I have a different problem to discuss today. For a long time, the issue of blight has been ignored, especially where neighborhoods, or community areas do not have an HOA.
The Oakland Mills Village Board has been working for years on what they call “Public Nuisance Ordinance” requests, that currently exist in other MD jurisdictions, that enforce protections of property. The People’s Voice (TPV), last year, asked the County Council to consider “blight laws”, along the same lines.
While we are considering allowing every square inch of property to be developed or re-developed to add high density housing supply, which can be argued as not being the best way to get any significant amount of affordable housing, how about we consider protecting existing affordable housing? It is particularly unfair to concentrate supply efforts solely on creation of new housing, which produces large up-front profit for developers, and not require property owners to maintain it. Those who occupy the more affordable units in the County are the most harmed by not having blight ordinances in place. We too often see units that are not properly serviced and repaired, with accumulated debris. One cannot even get overgrown grass cut in Howard County, unless it is able to be deemed a fire hazard. That’s not right.
We need a “Housing Preservation Ordinance”, not unlike the Public Nuisance Ordinances of Baltimore City and Baltimore County that have been successful in reducing blight. This is not a new precedent for Howard County, since blight declarations have been used to obtain property to update, such as the Long Reach Village Center. We just need more clarified, enforceable definitions to implement everywhere.
Some suggestions TPV made included defining debris (including wood) and enforcing remedies regarding trash, wood piles and debris from fallen trees or cut trees, downed trees sitting, fence disrepair, shutters, broken/missing windows, insecure doors/windows, leaves/grass accumulation, plant growth into structures, etc.
These should be addressed at significant damaging levels, not to pose a hardship or difficult level of upkeep on properties. Wood trash issues are of heightened concern due to termite and other wood insect infestations. Vacant properties need to be cared for and secured to avoid illegal usage and deterioration.
These scenarios are of particular concern to residents living in affordable housing areas where owner neglect within their communities has caused visible blight. The belief in some areas is that owners are waiting to redevelop and are neglecting property. We owe a strong protection to these communities in particular, as well as residential areas in older neighborhoods with no HOA protection, and very little recourse in County regulations to remedy visual, and damaging neglect.
Write to your council members, at CouncilMail@HowardCountyMD.gov and ask that they consider Housing Preservation Ordinances to help older neighborhoods and existing, and upcoming affordable housing, to define and avoid damaging blight.