Councilman Takes a Jab at Executive’s Housing for Millennials Remarks
Riemer says comments could hurt efforts to attract businesses
Marc Elrich, left, and Hans Riemer
Montgomery County Council at-large member Hans Riemer isn’t shy about expressing his opinion. Neither is County Executive Marc Elrich.
So when the county executive told a crowd of 200-plus at a public meeting in Silver Spring last week that he wasn’t willing to replace affordable housing units with housing for millennials, which he referred to as “people making $60,000 or $80,000,” he faced backlash on social media for what was perceived as a lack of compassion for the younger generation.
“We lose more affordable housing than we produce and what we produce isn’t really affordable housing for people who need it most,” Elrich said during the forum.
The term “millennials” generally refers to people born between 1980 and 2000.
Elrich, 69, later told The Washington Post that he misspoke, and said he was referring to higher income people, insisting that he did not mean to suggest that he would deprioritize housing for millennials. A spokesman declined to comment Friday and county offices were not open Monday.
Riemer, 46, wasn’t satisfied. On his Facebook account, he posted that Elrich had consistently voted against several master plans that have helped create market-rate and affordable housing.
“Pitting younger workers against low income residents is unhelpful. We can and do support the needs of both. Our master plans are a great example of this — plans where we zone to create new market rate housing AND preserve existing affordable housing. But I have to say that the County Exec voted against that approach in Bethesda, Lyttonsville, and Chevy Chase Lake, to pick 3 recent examples, when he was on the Council,” Riemer wrote.
Riemer said Elrich’s Mea culpa wasn’t sufficient.
“That doesn’t clean it up at all. That’s [millennials] our workforce. That’s our income level, and it’s where we have major housing and affordability problems. They are among the hardest squeezed in the county, and he expressed himself very clearly in a way that is consistent with all of his votes on the county council,” he said in an interview Friday.
Elrich has previously made off-the-cuff remarks that have gotten him in trouble, including an accusation during his campaign for county executive that the Planning Board was engaging in “ethnic cleansing” by displacing low income residents in Long Branch due to the construction of the Purple Line.
Riemer said he is worried that companies such as Amazon, which elected to settle in Northern Virginia last year instead of Montgomery County, are taking notice of Elrich’s missteps.
“Companies are concerned that they can’t hire here. They’re worried that their employees won’t have a place to live. So the stakes here are not small. The stakes are about the economic progress of our community,” he said. “Do you think Amazon didn’t know what record he came to the office with?
Riemer praised Elrich for his plan to travel to the West Coast at the end of February to recruit businesses, but said attracting tech companies with large numbers of millennial employees could pose a challenge in the wake of Elrich’s remarks.
“Great. If any of them are interested in coming, they’ll take a look. What’s the first thing they’re gonna ask?” he said, referring to the question of where the employees would want to live.
Riemer endorsed Elrich during the general election, but during the primary, the council member wrote a similar Facebook post, accusing Elrich of amplifying the voices of “a small but vocal few who are vehemently opposed to making the changes we need to make for the future.”
Elrich told Montgomery Community Media that “Hans doesn’t know very much about zoning.”
Riemer said Friday that he is willing to work with Elrich and that the two talk every week, but they have fundamental differences when it comes to housing and economic development.
“He can’t go out to the West Coast trying to recruit tech companies while he’s bad mouthing millennials,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com