Analyzing Affordable Housing Needs in Your Jurisdiction: Examples from Maryland Housing Elements

Local Spotlight 

by Joseph Griffiths, AICP, Local Assistance and Training Manager 

Image 1 – Photo of construction workers framing a house, courtesy of DHCD.

In 2019, the Maryland Departments of Planning (Planning) and Housing and Community Development (DHCD) initiated mutually reinforcing development efforts to assist Maryland jurisdictions with their affordable housing planning needs.  

Planning has shared, and will continue to share, extensive information about the Housing Element Models & Guidelines (M&G) and the Maryland Housing Needs Assessment & 10-Year Strategic Plan (Needs Assessment), both of which are excellent resources for jurisdictions completing a housing element for the first time, per the requirements of HB 1045 (2019), or for those taking a deeper look at housing affordability in their communities.  

The Maryland planning community is a supportive one, in which jurisdictional examples should inform and inspire the efforts of other towns, cities, and counties. Reviewing other adopted housing elements addressing the requirements of  
HB 1045 can make the resources and strategies described in the M&G and Needs Assessment more tangible.  

As a follow up to previous Planning Practice Monthly articles describing the housing data dashboard and how to use the Needs Assessment’s Section 4, Needs by region & core actions to address them to supplement a housing element, let’s look at how two jurisdictions, the Town of Sykesville and Queen Anne’s County, used these resources to develop their recently adopted housing elements.  

Sykesville Uses Data to Assess Housing Need 

Image 2 – Screenshot showing cover of Vision 2030, the Town of Sykesville Comprehensive Plan.

Sykesville is small town located in southern Carroll County. According to Vision 2030, the comprehensive plan adopted in 2021, the 2020 town population was 4,209. From pages 56 – 62, Vision 2030 uses American Community Survey (ACS) and Area Median Income (AMI) data, supplemented by ESRI Business Analyst, to analyze the needs for affordable housing in the community, per the requirement in Land Use Article § 3-114 (c), which states that a “housing element shall address the need for affordable housing within the local jurisdiction.”  

Vision 2030’s housing element begins by framing the discussion of affordable housing with a summary of HB 1045, including its statutory AMI ranges and requirements. Planning recommends that all housing elements take a similar approach, as this description clearly communicates state requirements to residents and other stakeholders and establishes a foundation for later analysis, objectives, and actions.   

Sykesville’s housing element continues by listing the town’s AMI ($104,000 at the time of plan development) and its household income ranges based on the requirements of HB 1045, which were $62,400 annually for low-income households (60% AMI), and $62,400 to $124,800 (60% – 120% AMI) for workforce households.  

Other jurisdictions can locate these ranges for their communities using the AMI calculator on the housing data dashboard. Vision 2030 follows the discussion of AMI with a table highlighting the number and percentage of town households that fall within a variety of income ranges.  

Figure 1

Vision 2030 used ESRI Business Analyst to access the data for this table. This same data is available without using GIS software on the housing data dashboard by downloading an ACS economic report for a chosen county, town, or Census Tract. As an example, the same data, pulled from the ACS report, is shown here for another town in Maryland. 

Figure 2

Vision 2030 completes its housing needs analysis by calculating the number of households within four AMI ranges. Sykesville chose to include slightly modified AMI ranges than those described by HB 1045. Other jurisdictions may choose to do the same if they believe it provides a fuller picture of income ranges in their community. 

Figure 3

Vision 2030 uses this analysis, comparing AMI ranges (calculated regionally) to town specific income ranges (available in ACS data), to determine the level of need for affordable housing in the town. All this information is readily available on the housing data dashboard.  

Planning encourages other jurisdictions to read the entire Vision 2030 housing element to learn more about Sykesville’s application of this analysis to plan objectives and actions that include recommendations on the allowance of accessory dwelling units and inclusionary housing policies.  According to Vision 2030, these practices can help create a more integrated community by collocating houses of varying value. However, prior to developing an implementation plan for housing affordability, a jurisdiction must analyze its need for affordable housing, which is exactly what Sykesville did. Vision 2030 includes a statement on page 57 that captures a truth about why such an analysis is necessary:  

“The number of low income and workforce households located in the Town may seem high given its position as a relatively affluent community. That is, Sykesville’s median household income of $101,477 (2020) is higher than the County, MSA, and statewide averages. However, even at a broad brushstroke, the data demonstrate there are low-income households residing in Sykesville. Whether there is 1 low-income household or 394, the purpose of this required housing element, pursuant Maryland law, is to raise awareness that all communities need to appropriately plan for both workforce housing and low-income housing for households earning up to 120% of AMI.” 

Queen Anne’s County Uses State Analysis to Inform its Housing Element 

Image 3 – Screenshot showing cover of Queen Anne’s County Comprehesive Plan 2022.

Queen Anne’s County is Maryland’s seventh smallest county, located on the Eastern Shore. According to PlanQAC 2022, the comprehensive plan adopted in 2022, the 2020 county population was 49,874.  

Page 9-1 through 9-24 of PlanQAC 2022 establishes the county’s housing vision and principles, inventories the existing housing stock, assesses affordability, and the need for workforce housing and housing for special populations.  

This section also summarizes existing housing programs and partnerships and develops a series of goals, strategies, and recommendations that integrate land use and housing planning in a manner that focuses on affordability and advances the county’s goals for community and economic development. Other jurisdictions should consider emulating the county’s incorporation of DHCD’s Needs Assessment Section 4 analysis. Please read Planning’s April 28, 2022 Needs Assessment Planning Practice Monthly article for more information about DHCD’s methodology.  

Following a description of the Needs Assessment and the indices, PlanQAC 2022 compares the percentage of Census Tracts within the county that are lowest need to highest need (as described in the Needs Assessment) to the same percentages and categories for other Eastern Shore counties. It does this for both homeowners (Figure 4) and renters (Figure 5). The percentages included in these tables are pulled directly from Section 4. 

Figure 4
Figure 5

Following each respective table, PlanQAC 2022 includes additional tables listing the homeowner (Figure 6) and renter needs (Figure 7) described in the Needs Assessment. Earlier paragraphs introducing the Needs Assessment summarize potential strategies included in that document such as increasing access to affordable homes, emphasizing accessibility features for seniors and persons living with a disability, preventing displacement, and spurring economic growth in areas of need.  

Figure 6
Figure 7

Strategies from the Needs Assessment are reflected in PlanQAC 2022’s housing goals, strategies, and recommendations, which start on page 9-23, including, but not limited to: 

  • Encourage and allow appropriate density increases and a range of unit types to make affordable, workforce, and attainable housing an economically viable development option 
  • Provide opportunities to retrofit existing homes with accessible features so seniors and those with disabilities can remain in the community longer 
  • Work with non-profit development organizations to identify and secure financial resources to maintain housing conditions 
  • Continue and expand programs to help low- and moderate-income homeowners repair and modernize their homes (e.g., remedy health and safety hazards, weatherization, energy conservation, accessibility modifications, lead-based paint remediation) 

PlanQAC 2022 supplements local housing analysis, AMI, and ACS data with DHCD’s Needs Assessment analysis and strategy suggestions to tackle the Land Use Article § 3-114 (c) requirement that a “housing element shall address the need for affordable housing within the local jurisdiction.” 

The PlanQAC 2022 housing element was informed by the 2021 Housing Strategy for Queen Anne’s County , which was drafted concurrently with PlanQAC 2022. That document delves more deeply into housing conditions for county renters and homeowners, and expounds upon strategies to preserve existing housing, adopt new planning and zoning policies, incentivize new development, explore partnerships for affordable housing, and pursue additional financial resources. Planning’s M&G describes similar strategies, and provides examples of best practices from around Maryland, in the Housing Practices section.  

As with Sykesville, Plan QAC includes a vision for affordable housing on page 9-1 that encapsulates the importance of affordable housing planning.  

“The County will consist of sustainable, walkable neighborhoods that collectively are economically diverse; provide living arrangement options and housing opportunities for all income levels and ages; with access to a variety of goods, services, transportation options, employment opportunities, public and private facilities, amenities, and services.” 

Takeaway for Other Jurisdictions 

Many Maryland counties and municipalities may be completing a comprehensive plan housing element for the first time, but that does not mean they have to start from scratch. No jurisdiction has a monopoly on good housing planning, and planners must learn from one another if we are to meet the challenge of affordable and decent housing for all Marylanders.  

Planning encourages jurisdictions to collaborate in addressing their housing challenges and use the resources state agencies and other organizations have created to make developing a housing element less daunting. The Housing Element Models and Guidelines provide data, process suggestions, best practices, and implementation resources and the Needs Assessment includes analysis, down to the Census Tract level, that jurisdictions can use to supplement their own analyses.  

The state isn’t the only place to find helpful resources. Local Housing Solutions is a fantastic source for policy and needs assessment guidance that all jurisdictions should consider using. By leaning on and learning from one another and our partner stakeholders, modeling other examples to fit local contexts, and simply asking questions, planners will contribute to the vital work of ensuring housing affordability.  

For more information on developing your jurisdiction’s Housing Element, please refer to the resources found in this article, and visit Planning’s and DHCD websites. You may also contact Joe Griffiths, Local Assistance and Training at joseph.griffiths@maryland.gov for assistance or your Regional Planner. 

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