ROCKVILLE – As the recess period comes to an end, County Executive Marc Elrich plans to greet the Montgomery County Council with his plans for affordable housing in 2020.
In his end of the year remarks to The Montgomery Sentinel, Elrich said that he did not feel the county did enough on the topic and plans to have it be one of his key issues to address in his proposed FY2020 budget.
“We will be sending over some stuff, and hopefully, the council will want to work with us to do some of the things that we are going to have to do in order to make a dent in the problem,” Elrich said. “We have not sent it over yet; it has mostly been rhetorical, but I hope it moves from rhetoric to how we move forward into doing things.”
In 2019, Elrich announced that the county’s Housing Initiative Fund provided the highest level of financing in its history. Despite this, a December report by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition asked Montgomery County to raise that same Housing Initiative Fund from $65 million to $100 million to assist with affordable housing projects near the light rail project.
Elrich agreed with the additional affordable housing funding calls along the Purple Line route, saying that the amount of money being requested is “tangible” to complete.
Meanwhile, in October of 2019, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) compiled a report addressing the affordable housing shortage. The Montgomery County Council met with members of the MWCOG and eventually voted to adopt a resolution to support MWCOG’s findings and recommendations.
“This housing shortage has created a dynamic where more than 325,000 workers are commuting to jobs in the region each day from communities located beyond its footprint,” the MWCOG said in its report.
After the vote, Elrich said he was not in favor of the housing targets set by the MWCOG due to the lack of data showing that showed the county needed it. Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who was council president at the time, contends that the county needs to establish more housing units, and the goals presented would add 41,000 more units.
“We actually had a retreat with members of the MWCOG to have conversations regarding the region, Navarro said. “It’s not easy to have elected leadership from throughout the region because we all know that the Metropolitan Washington region is not just urban centers, but it also includes rural areas. It was a lot of back and forth, but we were able to achieve that particular consensus.”
It is not the first time that Elrich disagreed with the council on housing as he was not in favor of allowing fewer restrictions on establishing more accessory apartments, also known as Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs.
That bill also passed the council despite his objections.
Instead, Elrich has shown his support in other forms of establishing affordable housing. One example was the findings in a survey the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington (AOBA) commissioned from October to November of last year.
The survey, conducted by OpinionWorks, randomly selected 428 Washington, D.C. and 425 Montgomery County registered voters to determine their attitudes about housing availability in the area along with contributing factors and potential solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
Sixty-seven percent of Montgomery County and 82% of D.C. residents say that there isn’t enough affordable housing.
Both Montgomery County and D.C. residents are listed for the high cost of land and stagnant wages as the two top causes of the housing affordability challenge.
“Our region’s increase in rental housing operating costs goes far beyond wage increases that have remained relatively stagnant,” said Peggy Jeffers, AOBA-Metro Executive Vice President. “Much of these increasing operating costs can be attributed to the rising costs of utilities, property taxes, labor and maintenance, which have outpaced inflation for a number of years.
This is an unsustainable dynamic that is both profound and palpable for concerned residents in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, as demonstrated by how they prioritize the issue of housing affordability and express their overwhelming desire for short and long-term solutions.”
The survey also asked each resident’s opinion on proposed solutions to the affordable housing challenge. Sixty-nine percent of Montgomery County residents support the use of using public land and sixty-six agree that there should be government-funded assistance.
Another suggestion was locating mixed-income apartments in their neighborhoods, in which 65% supported. Roughly 68% of Montgomery County respondents support growth in the county. Elrich said that “nobody should be surprised” by the results of the survey, but challenges some of the suggestions.
“So, a certain percentage say growth is good if we’re prepared for it, but we’re not prepared for it yet,” Elrich said. “Housing affordability is a huge challenge, and I don’t know if people have wrapped their heads around the magnitude of it.”
As the time for his proposed budget presentation gets closer, Elrich said that the county has enough money to support more affordable housing initiatives going forward and hopes that the council will join in supporting the measures he supports.
“We hope that current trends continue, and we are able to expand some of the work that we wanted to do, like more money in affordable housing,” Elrich said. “I am hoping we have latitude, and the council continues to support our efforts, which I think is high on most people’s agendas, and if our finances continue to look good, I think we should continue making progress.”