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Montgomery County Council Challenged with Improving Affordable Housing

Ervin: ‘We’re turning on a faucet and only letting some drops drip out of the faucet, and then we’re pretending like that’s good enough.’

 

Officials, advocates and the community at large need to shed outdated ideas about the long-hailed strength of Montgomery’s affordable housing programs, councilmembers say, and come up with concrete plans that work effectively.

More than a year in the making, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs has drafted a 100-page housing policy—the first update since 2001—that puts a priority on:

  • “workforce housing” suited for the 21st century economy
  • housing for the special needs community
  • expanding the stock of affordable housing
  • balancing the construction of high-density communities around mass transit stations while preserving the character of older neighborhoods nearby

Councilmembers want to make sure the county does not rest on the laurels of decades past, when initiatives like the MPDU program LINK made Montgomery a pioneer in affordable housing.

“Before we start patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves for all the wonderful things we’ve done, we still have to recognize that Montgomery County has severe pockets of poverty,” Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said during a briefing last week.

“I get very—angry is the only word I can come up with—when I see that we’re turning on a faucet and only letting some drops drip out of the faucet, and then we’re pretending like that’s good enough. That’s not good enough. ... I appreciate the work that you’ve put into the document, but I really still am having a hard time. What is the actual plan that we’re talking about and where are we going to get the money to do it?”

As policy is refined over the next few months, Council President Roger Berliner wants to see more specifics and quantifiable goals.

“If we don’t set that down, I am very fearful that this will always be a feel-good conversation,” he said. “We need to hold ourselves as a community accountable in some way, and I don’t know how we get there without there being metrics attached to this. Not only is this a moral issue … it is most clearly an economic development issue. Because it has been very clearly said to us that if we want to have a vibrant economy, we have to provide housing for our workforce. And we cannot do that the way we are going about it today.”

The Nov. 13 briefing also touched on:

State help

As state purse strings have tightened, so have Montgomery’s housing programs, said DHCA director Rick Nelson, which puts a premium on the ability to convince lawmakers in Annapolis that Montgomery needs more state funding.

“Everyone recognizes that we’ve been retreating a little bit in the last few years because of the reduction of resources,” Nelson said. “All of us collectively have to make that argument better and more continuously at the state level. Because I see … resources going places that I know should come here.”

Moderately Priced Dwelling Units

The MPDU program remains a success Nelson said, but, “it clearly is not the driver for adding affordable housing in Montgomery County at this point.”

“We tout it around the country as being great,” Ervin said. “It was great at one time, when it was new and innovative. But it’s not putting a lot of families into housing situations. So I think that we really need to be bold now in our desire to make change in Montgomery County.”

Public-private partnerships

One arena of progress has come in partnering with the business community. DHCA has in recent years forged agreements with developers “at a level that we have not seen before,” Nelson said.

“It’s only because they’re waiting to see what’s going to happen in the long term,” Nelson said, of developers. “They’re willing to invest some money over five, six years because they figure by the time they get that money back, they’ll have their longer-term investment opportunities. So we need to maximize our ability to capitalize on that in the short term.”

Ervin believes this front will be the answer to the county's struggles over affordable housing.

“I really do think that’s going to dig us out of the hole that we’re in,” she said.

Kim Cooke November 21, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I hope this time around MoCo has the decency to develop more affordable housing in west county, instead of east.
jag November 21, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Amen.
Bob Hydorn November 23, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Such affordable housing in Montgomery County needs to be developed in a far more fair and equitable way in ALL areas of the County. Those that work in Montgomery County should have the opportunity to live as close to their place of employment as possible. One should not have to reside in say Takoma Park if they work in Potomac or Germantown to Silver Spring, having to take transit for hours to just get to work. Let’s work on this logically, and make Montgomery County the best place to live for everyone, not just those that can afford it.
Kim Cooke November 24, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Well said, Mr. Hydorn.

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