Washington Post staff writer Lori Aratani was online Wednesday to discuss her cover story in Saturday’s Real Estate section, “A niche in affordable housing debate.”
The story focused on controversial proposals that would ease rules on adding rental units to homes in D.C. and Montgomery County. Proponents cite the need for affordable housing. Opponents are concerned about how these dwellings would affect parking, public services and property values.
Here’s an edited transcript of her chat:
Q: Where will this meeting be? Where can I get the rules on this topic?
A: The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up the issue on June 21. Here's a link to more information (you'll need to scroll down).
In the District, the zoning commission will take up the issue later this year. For more information about how you can submit a comment about accessory dwellings (or to see how the current rules compare to the proposed rules), check out this Web site.
Q: Don't affordable dwelling units provide an extra usage and income for 1 or 2 people living in a house built for 4 to 5 while still preserving the historic integrity of the house?
Planners in both D.C. and Montgomery County believe this is indeed the case. They think changing the rules to allow homeowners to do this without having to go through the public hearing process will encourage more people to consider such arrangements — as long as they meet certain conditions.
Q: Wow! This is such a Washington issue (having grown up in DC). I've lived in Chicago for over 20 years and many people here rent their 2 flats (including basement) to qualified tenants. This city is able to house all types of people with varying degrees of income and successfully deal with the traffic, parking, and noise. I personally think this is an issue of not wanting the "undesirables," i.e. poor, minority, young, into affluent Montgomery county.
There are indeed concerns among some residents that changes to the current rules will lead to a flood of these kinds of living arrangements in neighborhoods where they are not very common — but it’s not clear this would happen. This was a major concern in Arlington County where officials voted in 2008 to allow accessory dwellings. But since then only a few — about eight — have been approved. Some officials wonder whether the rules were too strict and are considering whether they should amend the law
Q: There are already too many illegal apartments with too many occupants. We’re in an area requiring parking permits but the renters ignore that. One has been here a year or more but hasn’t bought Maryland plates — not military. Children are living in a basement apartment but the apartment does not have two exits. It will take a fire and some lives before the jurisdictions finally start enforcing housing laws.
Enforcement is a major issue. At the meeting I attended about the proposal in Montgomery County, this was the number one concern among residents. Officials in the District say they are working with other city departments to prevent issues like this from coming up — especially if the law is changed. In Montgomery, planning officials said this will be addressed when/if the measure goes to the County Council for a vote.
Q: As empty nesters find themselves in big houses, can’t rental basements or carriage houses help those couples stay and have someone to pitch in with caring for the house?
Yes, this is one of the reasons Montgomey County, the District — and many other jurisdictions across the country say they are considering changes to rules regarding these types of units.