2021 | Opinion

Opinion: With acute housing needs ahead, ‘Thrive’ is a top priority

Plan has many helpful ideas for policy fixes in Montgomery County

share this

Buying and renting in Montgomery County is too expensive. If we fail to enact a full range of solutions, the county will only become more out of reach for more families.

The county’s new general plan, Thrive Montgomery 2050, offers the right menu of policy fixes.

In the past year, home values have increased over 12%, with the average single-family detached home costing $775,000 in 2020 (p. 35 of the PDF), and in 2019, median rent hit close to $1,800.

Over 50% of Montgomery County renters are cost-burdened, (Thrive 2050, p. 90), paying over 30% of their income to rent. Costs are even more expensive in areas with prime access to Metro and other amenities.

The county has estimated, as of 2018, a gap of approximately 24,600 units affordable to households making at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI), and approximately 23,000 units affordable to households making at or below 30% of AMI (both figures are on p. 33). This gap is only expected to grow.

Montgomery County also needs to build 10,000 more housing units than planned by 2030 in order to keep up with the general rising demand that pushes up prices faster.

To combat this, we must envision a future with plentiful housing for people of all incomes in communities that act as hubs for opportunity and social mobility.

This is why Thrive 2050 is a top priority for the Montgomery Housing Alliance, a coalition of organizations focused on increasing the rate of affordable housing preservation and development in Montgomery County. Thrive 2050 includes important recommendations that align with this mission.

Thrive 2050, drafted by the Montgomery County Planning Board, is an updated framework for land-use decisions. Although it does not change any zoning or laws on its own, it will act as a guide for future policies related to housing, transportation, parks, and more.

The plan is currently being considered by the County Council.

Thrive says we need more of all types of housing, especially concentrated in places with jobs, transit, and existing infrastructure. It argues that both market-rate and subsidized housing in a range of shapes and sizes is necessary to meet our acute and diverse housing needs.

Finally, it says we must promote racial and economic diversity and equity in housing in every neighborhood.

To do this, it suggests updating the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program, developing strategies to minimize gentrification and displacement, avoiding a net loss of affordable units when redeveloping, boosting investment in the county’s affordable housing fund, and expanding homeownership programs (Thrive 2050, p. 101).

In particular, Thrive 2050 recommends identifying and allocating additional revenue for the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF), the county’s housing trust fund, to meet the needs of low-income households (Thrive 2050, p. 101). Increasing funding for the HIF is a critically important step toward meeting Montgomery County’s housing needs.

Rethinking our land use also presents us with an opportunity to take a step toward undoing zoning policies that have perpetuated racial and economic segregation. Targeted investments in affordable housing can break down the invisible walls to predominantly white, high-income areas even faster.

At the same time, the county must reverse the historical disinvestment in East County. 

While the plan could say even more about investing in below-market-rate housing and call for even bigger ideas to adequately house people with the lowest incomes, if it were passed today in its current form, Thrive would mark an important milestone in the county’s path to being a better place to live for everyone.

A home can’t get built without a blueprint, and Thrive 2050 is our blueprint for a more affordable, just county.

Mary Kolar is director of the Montgomery Housing Alliance. Sarah Reddinger is vice president of community development at Habitat for Humanity Metro Maryland and a member of the Montgomery Housing Alliance Executive Board.

***

Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat encourages readers to send us their thoughts about local topics we have covered for consideration as a letter to the editor or op-ed piece in our Saturday newsletter. Email them to editorial@bethesdamagazine.com. Here are our guidelines. We require a name and hometown for publication. We also require a phone number (not for publication) for us to verify who wrote the letter. Please provide a source for any facts in your letter that were not part of our coverage; if they can’t be verified, they likely will be omitted. We do not accept any submissions from a third party; it must come directly from the writer. We do not accept any pieces that have been published or submitted elsewhere.