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Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth C. Holt speaks Friday at the Maryland Association of Counties Convention in Ocean City. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

A graduate with debt? Md. housing chief might have a home to sell you

OCEAN CITY — Maryland Secretary of Housing and Community Development Ken Holt will seek sweeping changes in how his agency is run, and he has proposed helping graduates with high student loan debt buy houses.

The secretary made the announcement at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City Friday.

“I think it will be substantive and comprehensive,” Holt said of a legislative package his agency will deliver to the Gov. Larry Hogan before the end of the month.

Holt said his agency has hundreds of foreclosed properties that he would like to offer for sale at a deep discount, enabling students to pay off their debt while acquiring the property.

“It’s something that we’ve devised internally,” Holt said when asked if there was a model that he used to develop the proposed program. “It’s very creative and very unique.”

Holt said he would seek legislative changes that would allow his agency to offer college graduates homes it already owns from being repossessed during the recent economic downturn. The homes would be sold at a deep discount, maybe as much as 35 to 40 percent, and first-time buyers would be allowed to consolidate their student loan debt with the mortgage.

Holt also said he wants deep revisions in building codes that he said are choking business, and would like to issue revenue bonds to help local governments improve infrastructure for “10 to 15 to 20 counties.”

“We want to expand our capacity to do that,” Holt said, adding that he believes his agency can  issue revenue bonds to create a pool of $25 million to $40 million annually for local governments.

Additionally, Holt said he hopes to include a proposal for legislation from his agency to limit liability on lead paint poisoning cases.

“I think there should be limited liability,” Holt said. “From what I was told, there are only 350 children across the state of Maryland that are affected at this point by lead poisoning. It’s a very big issue in Baltimore, but it is declining because of the effectiveness of how we’ve addressed the problems — the amount of money that has been put into it, the aggressive approach that the state has taken to remove lead (paint) from houses.”

Holt said he could not provide details on the program.

“At this point it’s premature. We’re in the process of developing a legislative package in concert with the Maryland Department of the Environment and that package is going to include some recommendations that is going to include lead paint hazards.”

Holt said his agency faces a Sept. 1 deadline for delivering legislative proposals to Gov. Larry Hogan but that he expects to be done within the next week or so.

The announcements came as a surprise to many in the room, including Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

“He was way ahead of me,” said Kasemeyer, who spoke on a panel Friday alongside Holt and Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Michael Gill. “I’d never heard that before.”

Kasemeyer said there were questions about some of the programs including creating a bond pool for local infrastructure and the mortgage program.

“I don’t know if you can do it,” Kasemeyer said. “It sounds like a good concept, but in terms of the value of the property you’re lending on, how do you do that?”