A slight majority of Montgomery County residents agree that housing affordability is a major problem or a “crisis that needs immediate attention,” a recent survey found.
The study, commissioned by the Apartment and Office Building Association of Greater Washington, surveyed 853 randomly selected residents of Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., to determine attitudes about housing affordability.
Housing was a significant concern in Montgomery County, tied with taxes and health care but behind education and traffic.
County Executive Marc Elrich said Monday that “nobody should be surprised” by the survey, which underscores an ongoing dialogue over housing affordability and how officials should address the problem.
Forty-five percent of Montgomery County respondents ranked “supply and affordability” of housing as a major problem, while 9% agreed it was a crisis. Ten percent responded that housing was not a problem in the region.
The survey asked respondents to rate their feelings on several proposed solutions to the affordable housing problem. Thirty-three percent of respondents “strongly” supported public-private partnerships to build more affordable housing on excess public land. Government-supported rental assistance also had some of the highest support with 31% of respondents strongly in favor of the proposal.
Less popular were proposals to reduce regulations (24% strongly in favor) or establish a public comment process that “prevents individuals from unreasonably blocking new rental housing” (22% strongly in favor).
Fifty-three percent of Montgomery County respondents agreed that growth in the region is good “as long as we’re prepared for it.” Surveyors combined those responses with residents who agreed that growth in general was good for the area, reporting that roughly 68% of Montgomery County respondents felt that “total growth was good.”
But Elrich pointed out that a minority of residents — 14% — agreed that growth was good with no caveats, less than the 26% of respondents who said they would slow or oppose growth. Local responses highlighted the difficulty of reaching consensus on housing policies, especially given the regional housing targets recently set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
“So, 53% say growth is good if we’re prepared for it, but we’re not prepared for it yet,” Elrich said. “Housing affordability is a huge challenge, and I don’t know if people have wrapped their heads around the magnitude of it.”
Some of the highest-profile efforts to expand affordable housing in the county have been met with resistance. Council Member Evan Glass recently proposed legislation to introduce new impact fees for replacement homes on residential lots, an idea opposed by some local builders and homeowners.
Elrich said he expects that some of his own housing strategies will “make people uncomfortable,” including one suggestion that would require developers to submit proposals for mixed-income housing with units affordable to residents making around $30,000 to $50,000 a year.
His administration is already requiring mixed-income proposals for county-owned parcels, including available land on Randolph Road in Silver Spring. But Elrich said he’s considering making it a requirement for all local developers as the county struggles to provide housing for its highest-need residents.
The county needs to take an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to find a solution, Glass said, including his own legislation, which he believes will generate $43 million for affordable housing over the next 10 years. But it doesn’t erase the fact that local officials often have differing views on ways to increase the affordability and availability of housing over the coming years.
While Glass believes his impact tax bill will increase funding for affordable housing, other council members have promised a “lively debate” on the legislation, which opponents argue would increase home prices for middle-class families.
Elrich is deeply skeptical that higher-density zoning would encourage developers to price their units more affordably. But some council members, including Hans Riemer, have expressed an interest in upzoning and policies that would allow more multifamily homes on residential lots.
Whatever the solution, building or subsidizing affordable housing will come with a significant expense, Elrich said. The county would need to add hundreds of thousands of dollars to its housing trust fund to substantially increase the rate of new affordable housing or supply more vouchers to low-income families.
It will be difficult without a new tax — with Elrich said isn’t an option — or a sustainable source of funding for housing projects.
But Nicola Whiteman, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Greater Washington’s senior vice president of government affairs, said the survey was intended to emphasize that residents support growth and a diverse range of housing policies as officials consider solutions to the problem.
“We view the survey as a tool that can be used by both the executive and legislative branch as they continue to develop housing affordability policies and solutions,” she said. “To sort of say, ‘Here are solutions that could work in Montgomery County.’”
The council is scheduled to reconsider local growth policies in the fall, as the Montgomery County Planning Board launches a review of its subdivision staging policy.