ROCKVILLE— On Oct. 15, the Montgomery County Council received a report from members of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) highlighting the area’s critical housing shortage.
The report also indicated goals for improving transportation and economic growth in the region.
Members of MWCOG appeared before the council from many different organizations and local jurisdictions like the Montgomery County Planning Department, the Urban Institute and nearby cities.
According to its website, MWCOG was founded in 1957 as an independent nonprofit association with members from Maryland and Virginia. The MWCOG is tasked with sharing information and collaborating with officials and experts about the challenges facing the region.
The MWCOG is funded through financial contributions from member governments, state and federal grants and donations.
“Every month, more than 1,500 officials and experts come to COG to make connections, share information and develop solutions to the region’s major challenges. Together, they help advance COG’s Region Forward Vision for a more prosperous, accessible, livable and sustainable future,” MWCOG writes.
During the council’s briefing, representatives from MWCOG mostly focused their attention on housing in the region.
“Employment growth is currently outpacing housing. Insufficient housing impacts housing affordability and undercuts economic development that relies on an available workforce. Transportation systems are strained as workers commute long distances,” wrote council staff in their summary of the briefing.
One of the organization’s key findings was that between 2020 and 2030, the Washington Metropolitan area needs to create more than 75,000 additional households beyond current expectations of 245,000 households.
“This housing shortage or ‘shortfall’ has created a dynamic where, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) at COG, more than 325,000 workers are commuting to jobs in the region each day from communities located beyond its footprint,” wrote the MWCOG in their report.
“This situation affects the area’s affordability, potentially undercuts its appeal to new companies and talent, strains the transportation system, and impacts the environment and quality of life for the region’s residents. For some, this means not only long commutes to work but also difficult choices between paying rent or affording other basic necessities such as food or medicine.”
Maya Brennan is a senior policy associate at the Urban Institute. She explained to the council the importance of creating affordable housing located near reliable public transportation systems.
“Producing more housing in walkable or transit-rich locations would enable the county to retain its agricultural lands and greenspaces while still accommodating the new households who will form or move into the area,” she said.
Reaching solutions that do not impede greenspace is perhaps even more important in Montgomery County because of its Agricultural Reserve in the up county. There are restrictions on the Agricultural Reserve that prevents development on the land.
Brennan also noted the importance of implanting protective strategies to prevent individuals from being displaced and ensuring equitable access to housing. She explained the MWCOG has outlined strategies in their report to meet the goals they have set forth for the region.
“There is, however, no golden ticket and no magic solution. We’ve offered a menu of multiple tools for each strategy and goal, and the county is already using many of these policy tools, sometimes setting a high bar and other times still testing the waters,” Brennan said. “Just checking a box to say that you have a policy does not indicate whether it is doing its job well.”
She explained that some policies work best when they are used in tandem with other policies that can streamline the process of creating more housing.
“For example, policies that use public land for policy development could have a greater impact if those parcels are also zoned for multi-family development,” she said.
Council President Nancy Navarro noted that large scale progress like what the MWCOG recommends would require that elected officials hold each other accountable for meeting those goals.
Councilmember Hans Riemer echoed Navarro’s statement and explained that it would be a challenge for the county to combat the housing shortage.
“It is a challenge for the county to rise and show leadership (on this issue) and establish clearly that we have a housing shortage and that we have to be very aggressive about supporting new housing,” he said.
“I think this comes at a really good time, and I feel that the politics of housing is shifting a bit, and there is a window for us to go through.”
Riemer went on to note that this year, the council passed relevant legislation allowing for accessory dwelling units that “would not have been possible here at the council.”
The MWCOG recommends that over the next 10 years, the area shrink the housing affordability gap, increase the pace of new housing production and align additional housing units with expected household needs and resources.