Council Wants $5 Million More for Affordable Housing Projects

Council Wants $5 Million More for Affordable Housing Projects

County executive's support of Housing Initiative Fund draws questions

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A County Council committee is requesting an additional $5 million for the county’s Housing Initiative Fund construction budget.

County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed capital budget, which covers fiscal 2019 through 2024, includes $17 million for the fund,  established in 1988 as a dedicated source of money for building affordable housing. In addition, more than $41 million is included in Elrich’s proposed fiscal 2020 operating budget for the Housing Initiative Fund. The housing fund provides a mechanism for construction and preservation of affordable housing.

During budget reviews this week, council member Andrew Friedson proposed increasing the funding, noting that increases in average rent have outpaced the rise in median income between 2010 and 2015.

Former County Executive Isiah Leggett had appropriated $16 million for the housing fund for the current fiscal year, but the council approved a similar increase, bringing the total to $22 million.

“The County Executive’s proposed funding below FY 19 levels takes us a step backwards in having the financial wherewithal to build additional units so desperately needed to keep up with the demand for affordable housing,” Friedson wrote in a memo to five of his council colleagues.

Friedson also noted that more than 32,000 low-income residents have been on a waiting list for the Housing Opportunities Commission, which runs subsidized housing programs and projects, and that 14% of the county’s rental housing was built after 2000.

Elrich made affordable housing one of his priorities during his campaign last year, but drew the ire of council members at this week’s meeting.

Council member Craig Rice said he was frustrated that Elrich hadn’t budgeted more.

“You sit here and advocate for things and go across the street and [the county executive] does something different,” he said. “There’s always a need for more [affordable housing], and it’s very clear in this instance that the $5 million will help get us there.”

Committee chairman Hans Riemer, often at odds with Elrich, accused the county executive of voting against private sector affordable housing during his 12 years on the council due to his opposition of county master plans.

Riemer said he is worried that Elrich may continue to take anti-development stands.

“I hope we don’t find out that there are deals ready to go, but the county executive isn’t ready to support them,” he said.

Elrich said the criticism is unfounded because the housing fund gives loans to builders, and he is expecting between $4 million and $5 million in loan repayments to be added to the capital improvement bduget.

“It’ll come back in and replenish the fund. It happened this year, and that made the fund end up where it did. We have the money, and I feel good about where we are,” he said.

Elrich added that he left $10 million in the operating budget for the council to use at their discretion.

“I kinda gave them a bunch of money that they could use for their priorities. I could’ve spent it myself and done all this. Maybe I should have, and spared myself this grief about what are we gonna do?” he said.

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

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