Mayor Wojahn leads affordable housing workgroup
By A.R. Cabral
The group now known as Pathways to Unity began as a community policing forum in 2016. The group gained notice from social media and local news outlets in August 2020, when founder Charles Wiley, councilmember in the town of North Brentwood (Ward 1) and DeMatha Catholic High School alumnus, organized a march from Hyattsville to the National Mall to commemorate the famous March on Washington of 1963.
The organization is a collaboration of residents and civic leaders along the Route 1 Corridor. “I sent out an email to every elected official along the Route 1 Corridor, from College Park all the way to Mt. Rainier,” Wiley recalled. “[I said,] ‘Hey, I want to do something, I want to merge the community; we are too small to do this alone. Why don’t we just merge together and do a march?’”
Over 100 people, including College Park’s mayor, Patrick Wojahn, marched for social justice down Route 1. Then, at a virtual post-march meeting, a group of residents and elected officials established a workgroup, and Pathways to Unity was born.
The organization has launched two initiatives that stem from its original social justice vision. One effort is focused on affordable housing and the other on improving access to local mental health services. Mayor Wojahn leads the affordable housing initiative.
“I decided to take over the initiative of the affordable housing workgroup on the Route 1 Corridor to educate ourselves and find out what we can do to engage and be active on this issue,” Mayor Wojahn said. “[For] a lot of us, this is about learning and looking for opportunities to be involved.”
Wojahn acknowledged that there is a housing shortage in the city. The lack of inventory fuels higher rents and home sale prices — an issue that affects both residents and students at the University of Maryland. The workgroup’s focus and efforts provide a means for Wojahn to continue learning about the depth of this problem.
According to a 2018 study by the HOPE Center for College, Community, and Justice, which is affiliated with Temple University, 36% of university students faced housing insecurity in 2017. Their challenges ranged from not being able to pay rent or utilities to moving two or more times. A whopping 9% of the 43,000 students surveyed, from 66 institutions in 20 states and Washington D.C., were declared homeless in 2017.
Mayor Wojahn is familiar with the HOPE study. He cited the findings as a compelling reason to address students’ housing insecurity in College Park.
“We often assume that people are coming here with their families, and they are getting loans to get by, but the student population is actually in a struggle,” Mayor Wojahn noted. “So we need to figure out a way to make sure people have access to affordable housing within our community and the university.”
As leader of Pathways to Unity’s affordable housing initiative, Wojahn turns to other civic leaders to educate the workgroup about affordable housing. Maryland State Delegate Brooke Lierman (District 46) recently participated in one of the group’s meetings.
“I certainly have a concern with ensuring that we’re not only providing off-campus housing options to the wealthiest students who are attending our schools,” Lierman said. “We don’t want to economically segregate students like that, because part of the benefit of college is that you are meeting people from all different backgrounds.”
Lierman also spoke about the Maryland Housing Needs Assessment & 10-Year Strategic Plan, which was released in December 2020 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, in conjunction with local partners. The plan outlines current housing in Maryland and charts a course to address regional housing needs. The plan cites the Terrapin Development Company, a joint-venture real estate and economic development partnership including the city, the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, as a model for how partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit entities can address issues related to affordable housing.
“I thought [the workgroup would] be a good opportunity for College Park to be involved with other municipalities around affordable housing,” said Wojahn. “It was also an opportunity to bring in some ideas, to see ideas from other communities and bring those home with me to College Park.”
The affordable housing workgroup will meet again July 26 at 6 p.m. For more information or to join the workgroup, use the contact form at pathwaystounity.org/contact-us.