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It's a Nice Place to Work, but You Probably Can't Live There

· Find ways to keep affordable dwellings affordable.

· Modify zoning ordinances to enable creation of more affordable housing.

· Simplify environmental and other government regulations to reduce costs.

· Motivate employers to help provide affordable housing for their employees.

· Better educate voters to change perceptions and counteract "NIMBY-ism."

· Support political leaders in efforts to enhance housing affordability.

All are worthwhile. But the most fundamental affordable housing problem remains: the money gap.

No matter how hard we try to trim specific costs, the aggregate development costs -- and fair market value -- of land and housing are likely to continue rising more quickly than incomes. And working families will continue to be priced out of the market.

The often unacknowledged 800-pound gorilla at every affordable housing conference and seminar I have attended is the inescapable need for subsidies to close the money gap. Why is the gorilla ignored? Because subsidies, which can be provided in many ways, ultimately require some form of public funding and more tax revenue.

In today's political and economic culture, talking about raising taxes is practically taboo. Even in affluent and politically progressive Montgomery County, voters are unlikely to support taxing themselves to boost subsidies and significantly increase affordable housing.

Yet only a substantial shift in public sentiment and changes in fiscal and land-use policies can improve Montgomery County's housing affordability outlook. Unless the money gap is narrowed, workers will have no choice but to live far from the county, even outside of Maryland. This is why next year's housing conference should focus on the 800-pound gorilla.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland.


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