The Anne Arundel County Council passed an amended version of Bill 12-20 by a 4-3 vote on May 26. Bill 12-20 will exempt workforce housing projects with the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit designation from having to pass a test for adequate school facilities if the projects consist of 50 units or less.
Councilwoman Sarah Lacey sponsored the bill after learning of a Jessup project called Brock Bridge Landing, whose developer applied for low-income tax credits from the state when schools in the area were considered “open.” Elementary and middle schools are “closed” when they are expected to reach 95% capacity, and high schools are closed at 100% capacity. By the time credits were awarded, Brock Bridge Landing could not continue development because one of the schools had since closed.
Under current law, with Bill 12-20 in effect, the threshold for low-income housing will be 98% for elementary and middle schools and 105% for high schools.
Pete Baron, director of government relations for County Executive Steuart Pittman’s administration, said only one Anne Arundel project was awarded the low-income tax credits in 2019 and only two were approved in 2018. The program incentivizes developers to build workforce housing because those developments are not profitable for the developer otherwise.
Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, a teacher, voted for the bill after noting that 18,845 families are on the waiting list for housing in Anne Arundel County and that many of those students are already attending schools here.
“As a teacher, I’ve seen students who’ve had to deal with homelessness, who’ve had to deal with not having a regular place to sleep at night,” Rodvien said, “… and the idea that we could provide even a very small number of families — families with children that are pretty much already in our public schools and not likely to be adding to the number of students — [with housing] is absolutely something I want to support.”
Alex Szachnowicz, the chief operating officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the change would not “open” Oak Hill Elementary, but it would open Severna Park Middle School (SPMS) and any of its feeder schools that are not currently open. The SPMS feeder includes Benfield, Folger McKinsey, Jones, Oak Hill, Severna Park and Shipley’s Choice elementary schools.
Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler echoed the concerns of her constituents, who are weary of overcrowding in schools.
“I don’t want any child to be homeless. That’s not my intent with these comments,” Fiedler said, “but I don’t think we should be prioritizing housing over education … I understand this is not an ill-intended bill, but it will have poor, poor outcomes for the schools it will impact.”
For the amended bill, the county council received 88 votes from the public, entered into county record as public testimony, although some of the entries had no comment. Of those 88, 51 were Severna Park residents against the bill. Another nine were Millersville residents against the bill.
In total, 388 people testified on the original bill, with 384 opposed, three in support (although the testimony for two of them appears to be in opposition), and one taking no position.
“With two children currently attending Severna Park Middle School, I have witnessed firsthand the strain on faculty and student resources due to the increase of student size within the classroom,” wrote Candice Webster. “Both are main contributing factors in the quality of education our children are receiving.”
Jonathan Maurer wrote, “As a child who grew up in an environment where all of my Maryland public schools were forced to install ‘relocate-able’ classrooms because of similar ‘workforce housing’ lobbying on the part of developers, I can assure you the children, and their education, will suffer!”
A few supporters of the bill also submitted written testimony.
“Housing is a human right — the county council should start acknowledging that by developing the legislative infrastructure needed to move forward with impactful affordable workforce housing in Anne Arundel County,” said Vickie Gipson, a judge of the Orphans Court, who said a judge’s salary of $39,000 barely covers the cost of housing in Anne Arundel County.
Although the legislation received much attention, Baron said it is a “very small bill” that address the technical reality of how tax credits are financed, and it will not reopen every school in the county.
“There is a minimal to no impact on the school system, but there will be an immeasurable impact on the students who will be able to go to schools and live in neighborhoods they might not otherwise be able to access in this county,” Baron said.