Advisers Recommend Doubling Funding for Housing Program

Advisers Recommend Doubling Funding for Housing Program

County executive urged to put $100 million toward affordable housing projects

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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s advisers say that for the county to solve what has been labeled an affordable housing crisis, an annual housing initiative fund should be doubled to $100 million.

The county’s housing initiative fund was created in 1988 as a dedicated source of money for construction of affordable housing. The fund is maintained through a combination of loan repayments and 2.5 percent of property tax revenue. Elrich has budgeted $41.5 million for the fund in fiscal year 2020.

The recommendation for increasing the trust fund was one of about 20 put out by a 44- member subcommittee within Elrich’s transition team — a group of 200-plus community leaders that met sporadically last fall.

The committee, which was working on Elrich’s “a more affordable and welcoming county” priority, detailed their suggestions in a report that was released last week.

Other ideas include:

-Increasing the number of accessory dwelling units, also known as in-law apartments

-Decreasing requirements for housing near transit, such as requiring fewer parking spaces

-Expanding the county’s rental assistance program

Robert Goldman, the president of the nonprofit Montgomery Housing Partnership, said he supports the recommendations made by the transition team.

He said achieving an annual $100 million goal for the trust fund seems reasonable, given that the District of Columbia has generated more than that amount for the past few years.

The county’s affordable housing programs range from housing for residents making less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, to 120 percent. According to the census bureau, the median household income was $103,178 in 2017.

The Montgomery Housing Alliance and a number of other civic organizations have said the county has an “affordable housing crisis.”

“I think there are things and tools that people in other jurisdictions use to generate revenue for the housing trust fund,” he said. “We would like to think it’s a reasonable goal to work towards. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Goldman said he is worried about the master plan for the Veirs Mill corridor between Rockville and Wheaton because it includes changing the zoning for market-rate affordable housing, which would increase rents. Creating more affordable units, he said, will lead to a ripple effect.

“Many times, they [affordable units] are supporting the economy, in the sense that they create jobs, they provide stability and sometimes create extra revenue where there isn’t,” he said.

Goldman said he also hopes Elrich will increase the number of accessory units — something the county executive has opposed despite a resolution the County Council is considering that would allow the  apartments in more areas of the county. Elrich has cited traffic concerns from homeowners’ associations as reasons to oppose the bill, and has said he would prefer to focus on bringing down the cost of existing housing.

“We hope that the council and the county executive can work through that,” Goldman said of their differences.

Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart, a supporter of Elrich during the campaign, said she was disappointed in Elrich’s opposition to additional accessory apartments, particularly since her city is subject to county zoning laws.

“I was hoping that once he [Elrich] was elected, we would actually start to see some movement on that,” she said.

Stewart said she agrees with most of the suggestions outlined in the transition team report, but that the team met for a total of four hours over the course of sessions in November. The time they spent together, she said, mainly consisted of brainstorming ideas. But few specifics of the details were discussed.

“I think given the time we had as a transition team, a lot of great ideas were put forward. The next step is for the county executive and the council to see what is feasible to put in place,” she said.

Goldman said he felt the transition team was unified in its approach.

“No one wanted to write a separate opinion saying, why wasn’t this included or that included,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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