BETHESDA – Affordable housing was called an inalienable right, a matter of equity, a key to opportunities and a way to improve the lives of all residents during the 29th Annual Affordable Housing Summit, which was held May 17 at the North Bethesda Marriott Conference Center.
Politicians, developers, bankers, builders and non-profit workers spent the day learning how to bring affordable housing to a county known for its high housing costs.
When a family has to spend so much for rent that it has fewer dollars for food and health care, “This is a sin,” declared Barbara Goldman Goldberg, co-chair of the event.
“Decent, safe and affordable housing for all residents is an inalienable right. It is not a privilege,” she said.
While noting that Montgomery County has put much effort into affordable housing, she added, “We still have many miles to go before we sleep.”
Goldman Goldberg called for more financial incentives and tax breaks so that builders can create or set aside affordable units.
Last year, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the county was $1,714, according to the county’s planning department research and special projects division.
The median price in 2018 to purchase a house here was $440,000.
The number of renter households in the county rose 46 percent between 1990 and 2018, according to the division. The amount of owner households increased 26 percent over the same period.
In his welcoming remarks, County Executive Marc Elrich vowed to introduce legislation that would protect residents living in affordable units when their complex is renovated.
“Montgomery County has got to be careful not to displace” any renters due to urban renewal, he said.
“We need to think about what happens when you take a place like Twinbrook where 45 percent of families are at 200 percent of poverty.” When an area in that section gets rezoned, “These people can’t come back.”
Elrich said he would like to find ways to allow more lower-income residents to be able to live in the excess housing units that currently exist here or in some of the condominiums, which he described as “under water.”
“We need a strategy to deal with how to keep low-income people in Montgomery County,” said Elrich, who called affordable housing “one of my favorite issues.”
Elrich also said he would prefer that the county prioritize homeowners rather than renters so more people could gain equity.
Council President Nancy Navarro noted that while the county has allocated more than $65 million for affordable housing in next year’s budget, “the need remains.”
She suggested people think out of the box, pointing to the immigrant community who “are sharing housing. They are finding innovative, creative ways to afford housing.”
She called for more-affordable rentals throughout the county, noting, “Nobody should fear having people who do not look like you sharing in your neighborhood.”
Also addressing the several hundred people in the audience was United States Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who said affordable housing should be located close to where the jobs are.
He called Montgomery County “a leader in creative ideas” when it comes to using housing vouchers and taking care of its veterans.
Still, he said, “We have a lot of work to do in the county. We have a lot of work to do in the state.”
He said President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would “simply gut a lot of affordable housing programs. This is unfortunately part of a pattern for the last two years.”
Trump’s budget “is a dagger aimed at vulnerable communities,” Maryland’s junior senator said.
However, Van Hollen added, he was hopeful Congress would restore some of the programs Trump had either eliminated or reduced.
The conference’s theme was Affordable Living: A Key to Opportunities. It included panels on such topics as housing for millennials and seniors, discrimination and basis in affordable housing, opportunity zones, the intersection of transportation and housing and capital investing.