Homeownership is closely linked to the American Dream—most individuals and families aspire to own a place that they can call their own and pass on to their children. However, homeownership is becoming increasingly difficult in Montgomery County for a variety of reasons. My experience becoming a condominium owner earlier this year illustrates several of those problems.
I first moved to Montgomery County in late 2015, and quickly liked the county for its neighborhoods, active civic and political life, parks, forests, and streams, and excellent shops and restaurants. I became involved in local politics and joined the Montgomery County Young Democrats, eventually becoming President. And over the last several years, the county felt more and more like home and I eventually decided to purchase a house here.
But this was much easier said than done. I quickly realized that while having a respectable income of $74,000 per year, I could not afford a single family home or even most townhouses. Since I work in D.C., like walkable neighborhoods with some green space, as well as access to stores, restaurants, and entertainment, I was searching for a place in or around downtown Silver Spring. Since it was just myself, I thought it would be easy enough to find a small condominium in a location that checked these boxes.
To my surprise, I found there were very few condos in downtown Silver Spring and that the ones available were either extremely small or extremely expensive — sometimes both.
Over a couple of months I looked at a number of places; one was a bedroom and den apartment about 640 square feet that was tempting but way too expensive at $379,000. A couple of other condominiums were old and poorly maintained. The most egregious place I viewed had a perfect location just up the hill from the Silver Spring Metro but it was only 460 square feet and practically a studio apartment. The asking price? $260,000. A couple of larger condominiums came on the market, but they were over $500,000—significantly above my approved loan amount.
After searching fruitlessly, I realized I had to broaden my search. Eventually I found a condominium in a multifamily building about a mile to the west downtown that had substantial space and was in a delightful area along East Way Highway. Even so, I had to pay almost $20,000 above the list price to beat out other offers. I love my new neighborhood, but there aren’t many buildings like mine with prices that are attainable to middle income residents like me.
I am a young professional with a good income who wants to live in a diverse, walkable, urban area, but was priced out of downtown Silver Spring due to expensive housing and a lack of options. Ultimately, my situation worked out, but I can only imagine how people with lower incomes are faring.
Fortunately, Thrive 2050, an update to the county’s general plan, outlines strategies to support homeownership. It recognizes that in order to accommodate people like me, we need to build more housing in central areas and along public transit corridors — including single family homes, townhouses, apartments, and condominiums.
I urge people to embrace Thrive’s vision for more people like me to live in this great county that has provided me with so many opportunities. While there can always be improvements, I urge the County Council to approve this plan that will make housing more affordable and benefit so many people.
My experience purchasing an affordable home in Montgomery County was a difficult one. Implementing Thrive Montgomery would make it easier for future residents.
Michael DeLong is president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats. In 2017 and 2018, he worked for Maryland State Dels. Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman.
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