Elrich Wants Legislation To Preserve Affordable Housing
Lower income residents need opportunities for ownership, county executive says
Montgomery County’s executive is pledging to introduce legislation that would protect affordable housing when neighborhoods are redeveloped.
Elrich said low-income residents are being squeezed out of areas such as Twinbrook when new development replaces affordable housing and some residents have difficulty passing background and credit checks, as well as meeting income requirements.
“Whether it’s Georgia Avenue next to the Metro or whether it’s parts of Bethesda, we need to find a way to preserve those affordable communities,” said Elrich, who listed housing issues as a priority during his campaign. “We need to think about what happens when you take a place like Twinbrook where 45% of families are at 200% of poverty, will not qualify for [moderately priced dwelling units], and then we massively rezone an area knowing these people can’t come back.”
“We want to make sure if we have plans to revitalize a place, that the people who live there actually get to stay there after the place is revitalized,” he said.
Elrich made his comments at the annual, daylong Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County Friday in North Bethesda.
Pointing to the Twinbrook area of Rockville, Elrich said 45% of residents are living at 200% poverty levels – equal to about $24,000 for a single-person household and $50,000 for a family of four in 2018, according to federal standards.
The County Council this spring approved updated long-range plans for the Veirs Mill corridor between Rockville and Wheaton that preserve affordable housing and take other measure to promote mass transit and pedestrian safety.
Elrich said that the county has put too much emphasis on rental housing, and not enough on ownership for low-income residents.
“We nibble away at the MPDU world, but for this other portion of the population, we’re not doing much,” he said. “The fact that that divides along racial lines and our emphasis in Montgomery County has been on rental and not on ownership is one of the things I want to change.”
The decades-old MPDU program is available to households earning at least $40,000 but not more than $60,000 for singles and $85,000 for a family of four.
The council has previously passed legislation giving developers more incentives to build MPDUs and recently has undertaken an effort to increase the number of accessory dwelling units at houses, also known as in-law apartments. Elrich has argued the ADU changes will not help low-income residents and create traffic problems in neighborhoods and near schools.
“We talk about ADUs, but our biggest problem are these people who are facing the inability to find housing, and we don’t have the strategy to deal with it. We didn’t have a strategy when I was on the council,” he said.
During a session at Friday’s conference addressing the housing crisis for millennials and seniors, panelists indicated that ADUs had to be part of the solution.
Evan Goldman, executive vice president for acquisition and development for Bethesda developer EYA, said opponents of ADU expansion should be “called out.”
“We don’t do enough of that in this market. And so for people that are not in the know like we are on affordable housing and land use issues, that mantra and that fear-mongering gets out there in the community,” Goldman said. “If we don’t correct those people, that person at the dinner table you have over at your house who starts spouting fear about this accessory dwelling stuff, you’ve got to educate them at every moment. And we’re going to fall behind in the county if we don’t solve these issues.”
Council member Andrew Friedson, who moderated the panel, noted that the county’s rental rate is increasing because little new housing is being built, with 14% of the county’s housing stock being built after 2000. The priority, he said, must be the construction of housing to grow the tax base.
“To access our great education system, our extraordinary quality of life, we run the risk of not being able to provide that to new people,” Friedson said. “And if we don’t build more housing. If we don’t find creative ways to provide the existing housing in a thoughtful way to more people… not only will it prevent you from being able to have the opportunity that you have, it will harm the people currently.”
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org