The County Executive's Office is firing on all cylinders in the Council Chamber.
Housing the Homeless Moves Forward
First, controversial CB-181 passed by a squeaky 3-1 margin, after Mary Kay Sigaty, one of the bill's strongest advocates, was out with the flu. I think whomever planned out how the various parts of the North Laurel Housing Project would make it to the Council is either very smart, or a very fortunate recipient of happenstance. CB-181 is a small part. It allows the Housing Commission to apply for Project Financing for a "Neighborhood Conservation Initiative Project" along the Route 1 Corridor to create "permanent, affordable, supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals" by way of a 33-unit apartment complex. This vote passed by a 3-1 margin (Jen Terrasa the dissenting vote), with members of the Council noting in their votes that the location of the Project, or even the fact that this Project will go forward at all, is still pending further votes by the Council.
I say this is "very smart" because it allows for an incremental approach to a very controversial vote that most likely would be tripped up if it were ever put forward en masse. It allowed momentum to begin on the Project without anyone explicitly endorsing it. No one should underestimate what political momentum does to create an inevitability about certain things, especially those that require a pinched nose or two in passage.
All that in perspective, this is a critical project with a critical location. I would say it is unlikely that the County has other landowners interested in leasing their land to an experimental housing project in exchange for affordable housing credits. Furthermore, this particular location allows access to mass transit, which should be a foundational requirement for any project of this kind. The Housing Commission is not making anyone from the Beechcrest Mobile Park homeless and, in fact, will be providing at least 10 months rent in addition to relocation services for all individuals currently living in the Mobile Park. As for the surrounding single-family units, I would recommend them to the families living around Grassroots in Clemens Crossing. I hope they will learn that Grassroots has become a pillar of that community and a location where hundreds, if not thousands, of Columbia's youth have had their first experience with the transformative power of service.
I want to say this also: You can't support the Plan to End Homelessness and not support this Project. You just can't. At least one of the Council-members last night said that they support the Plan, but didn't know if this was the right location. That's fine for now as a smoke signal to appease contesting neighbors, but it won't hold water down the stretch. Homeless men and women, as with any vulnerable population, need strong, aggressive advocates and creative problem-solvers. I would just as well write this post to say "The Government needs to find a way to serve the homeless and meet the concerns of all North Laurel residents." Wouldn't that be nice? I'd fill up my travel mug and head off to work after solving Howard County's problems. But we all know that you (Council Council Member) don't have that option. And for that reason, because the middle ground is for road-kill and twigs, we need your advocacy on this Project.
Ulman Veto Stands
I was wrong. Ken Ulman can count just fine. In my defense, it was suggested to me in good faith that the Council would stand its ground on this before whatever political voodoo was worked up to turn two of the five Council members. It is not often that Public Access TV makes you laugh, but Greg Fox pulled it off last night. He motioned to overrule the Executive's Veto on the Growth Tiers bill and then waited for a second. The Council has recently, as a matter of courtesy, taken a position that all Motions should be seconded. With respect to Greg, this is becoming a game of Charlie Brown and the football. He is the only member of the Council that has now twice had a Motion fail for lack of a second. After a few second went by, you can hear him say "Can I get a second...you know that thing we were doing where everyone gets a second...no?" AAUGH!
In context, we can say the days of Ken's Fall of 2011 are over. His ambitions line up with many of those on the Council and he knows where those buttons are located. Hopefully, this results in a better bill, but now that we've reached a point where political brute force, and political action committees, are ingredients in the batter, I can't say I'm hopeful. The Council has sent the Administration a letter with a series of demands for the new bill, including additional funding and expansion of the Agricultural Preservation program. I see this as an important middle ground that hopefully is exploited to the full extent possible.
Either way, I think Allan Kittleman gets the opportunity to be a winner in this as well. The Rural West is his bailiwick and, although early, it probably won't hurt to get the chance to rally the troops in a lead up to the 2014 Election. Whether he gets that chance, with the General Assembly going into session, is left to the calendar. I wonder who will be looking to move this forward expediently?
That's all for today. Thank you to everyone who wrote their Council-person in support of the North Laurel Housing Project. The next time this Project is up for testimony, you can be sure that many of us will have our name in the queue to testify. Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!