Five of the seven candidates running for Montgomery County executive provided more details about their plans to address the local affordable housing shortage at a Thursday night forum in Kensington.
Missing from the event was businessman David Blair and state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda). The sponsors of the event, The Montgomery Housing Alliance, said Blair had a “family emergency” and couldn’t attend. Laura Evans Manatos, a Blair campaign spokeswoman, said in an email Friday morning she didn’t have details about the emergency, but was told “everything is ok.” Frick told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday he had a family event the night of the forum.
This is the second forum of the week that Blair has missed. He also missed a forum in Friendship Heights on Monday evening; his campaign said he was attending his daughter’s graduation.
The Democratic candidates who attended—County Council members George Leventhal, Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich and former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow—as well as Republican Robin Ficker were mostly amicable to each other and did not mention either Blair or Frick. The Democrats are running for the party’s nomination in the June 26 primary, while Ficker is running unopposed in the Republican primary.
The candidates spoke about legislation they would support to address the shortage of affordable housing in Montgomery County. A 2017 report commissioned by the county’s planning department found the county has a shortage of about 20,800 rental units available for residents who earn under 30 percent of the area’s median income—or about $35,150 per year for a family of four.
Elrich, who has been endorsed by a number of progressive groups and most recently the Montgomery County teachers’ union, said he would like to focus the county’s moderately priced dwelling unit (MPDU) program to primarily benefit residents who make 30 percent or less of the median area income.
The MPDU program requires developers to make a certain number of townhomes and condos in their projects available to households below the median income—for example, a family of four is eligible for such a unit as part of the program if it earns less than $82,000 per year.
Elrich said he wants to increase the MPDU requirement on developers from 12 percent to at least 15 percent of units in new buildings and require that 10 percent of those units be for the lowest-income families.
He also said he’d support increasing impact fees on developers to pay for school and transportation projects as well as rent stabilization to preserve older, more affordable units.
He said he doesn’t support rent stabilization for new units because he “doesn’t want to discourage” new construction.
Krasnow, who highlighted her experience as a former deputy director of the county planning department, during the forum, said she would like to change the county’s accessory dwelling unit law to enable more of such units to be built. The law allows homeowners to have an independent unitbuilt inside their residence that they can rent. She said despite recent updates to the county’s regulations, the planning department has seen few applications for new accessory units.
“There’s a portion of the law that calls for units not to be adjacent to each other—they have to be a certain distance,” Krasnow said. “I think there’s absolutely no reason to keep the distance requirement in there. I think that will help us get some more affordable units.”
Berliner said he would lobby state government to provide the county with a greater share of the benefits generated by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. The federal program provides affordable housing developers with tax credits of 4 percent or 9 percent to help pay for their projects, but each state gets a limited amount of credits. He said he would like Maryland to set aside a greater share of the larger percentage credits for Montgomery County, where housing costs are more expensive than most other parts of the state. He also said he would work on getting developers and the county to consider building affordable housing on county parking garages near Metro stations, which he described as valuable county real estate in ideal locations for affordable units.
Leventhal said he would work with the county’s religious communities to find land owned by churches or other faith organizations where affordable housing could be built. He noted that while the cost of land is the biggest impediment to building affordable housing in the county, religious organizations own a significant amount of acreage that could be utilized.
“I would get involved immediately in an inventory of religious land,” Leventhal said. “To the extent that legislative changes and zoning changes … would be necessary, I would urge Park and Planning and the County Council to take those on.”
Ficker, like Krasnow, said he, too, would like to make accessory units more readily available.
In a somewhat telling exchange, the candidates also named a leader whom they admire.
Two of the candidates—Elrich and Krasnow—said they admire County Executive Ike Leggett, who is retiring after his term ends in December. Leggett has not endorsed a candidate in the race and as recently as last week said he didn’t know if he would before the Democratic primary.
Elrich described Leggett as someone who was able to make “inclusion” real in Montgomery County and who has made difficult decisions in a pragmatic way by using a “moral compass.”
Krasnow said she respects Leggett for his work to maintain the county’s AAA bond rating through recession.
“He was willing to stand up to NIMBYs and co-locate housing projects on county-owned land,” Krasnow said, referring to “not in my backyard” residents who oppose new development in their neighborhoods. “He did it all without trying to get the limelight.”
Leventhal said he admired former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, whom he worked for as legislative director, for her ability to get things done. Berliner chose Sen. Chris Van Hollen and described the Maryland senator who won Mikulski’s seat as someone who is “steadfast, smart and thoughtful.” Ficker chose the entire U.S. Senate for its ability to be collegial and “discuss issues in an intelligent way.”