The College Park City Council has proposed a housing subsidy of $1,500 for each of 150 low-income University of Maryland undergraduates to help them rent apartments in high-rise Route 1 buildings.

At an informational public meeting on Feb. 6, members of the council outlined the proposal and presented a dozen questions they received from residents during the public comment period. Most of these questioned the plan’s dedicating $225,000 to the program.

“I’m not quite sure what is going to happen with this proposal at the end, given all the pushback and questions,” said Mayor Fazlul Kabir  after the meeting, noting that many questions were from long-time city residents and owners of single-family homes.

The council closed the public comment period on Feb. 9 but has not scheduled a vote. Mayor Pro Tem Denise Mitchell (District 4), who chairs a city council subcommittee on the proposal, said the council plans to hold another public meeting before voting on it. 

If the proposal is approved, the city could begin giving out the subsidies in the summer ahead of the fall 2024 semester.

Nine residents submitted written comments in opposition to the housing subsidy  prior to the Feb. 6 meeting. 

Berwyn resident James Neilis called the program a “theft of taxpayer revenue.” 

“If struggling students deserve a housing subsidy, then surely struggling families and individuals who already live in College Park are also deserving,” Nealis wrote.

Other residents agreed that College Park homeowners should qualify for the subsidy as well, or that students who attend other universities but live in the town should also be able to  apply for the money.

One commentor asked why the city and not the university is offering the subsidy.

“Why does the City Council feel it is their responsibility to pay these subsidies when the university and the business developers aren’t willing to do it for themselves?” resident Brian McAllister asked in a written comment.

Kabir predicted the proposal will change considerably before the council votes on it.

Under the original proposal, full-time undergraduates who have federal Pell Grants and grade-point averages of at least 2.0 could enter a lottery for the subsidy.

A 3% tax increase on commercial, industrial and apartment buildings that the council approved last year will pay for the housing subsidy if the city approves it.

The goal of the grant is to cover one month’s rent for each recipient. The average rent for a Route 1 apartment is $1,245, according to the city.

In a comment they submitted before the February public meeting, 25 students offered strong support for the pilot program. The students noted the city regularly funds initiatives to support narrow segments of the population. 

“To demonstrate its commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis in College Park, the City Council should fully fund the proposed pilot program,” they wrote.