Neighbors Unsettled by Bid To Put Homeless Near Schools
Monday, April 10, 2006
Montgomery County officials want to spend $2.5 million to buy and renovate a three-story building in Silver Spring to house eight homeless adults, an idea that has upset some neighbors because two schools are nearby.
County officials say the vacant brick building on Dale Drive, northeast of Silver Spring's downtown, is ideal for subsidized housing for people with a range of mental and physical disabilities or substance abuse problems.
A supervisor would live on-site to monitor residents and would be selected and screened by the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, according to Sharan London, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
But some area residents say the building is too close to Silver Spring International Middle School and Sligo Creek Elementary School. And they question the wisdom of placing recovering substance abusers in a building next to a grocery store that sells beer and wine.
"I wonder: Why not put mini-bars in the apartments they are renovating?" said Richard Camer, a freelance writer whose daughter is a third-grader at Sligo Creek. "To me, it boggles the mind."
The battle over the building, at 527 Dale Dr., highlights the challenge the county faces: With its homeless population increasing along with housing prices, Montgomery officials are trying to provide more affordable homes. Often, however, homeowners do not want such facilities in their communities.
"It's difficult for anybody to be able to afford housing here, and yet we need the people in our community to do the jobs that pay minimum wage, even though they cannot afford to live here," London said. "We have to be an inclusive community. We have to be inclusive economically as well as culturally."
The county's Housing Opportunities Commission is scheduled to vote on the plan May 3. As of April 2005, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the county was $1,036, according to the latest data available. Although Montgomery is wealthy by national standards -- median household income is $79,115 -- its homeless population increased by 9 percent in the past year, to 1,164, according to a survey taken by the county in late January.
The number of people in "permanent supportive housing" -- the term used for subsidized apartments for the homeless, which are sprinkled throughout the county-- increased to 581 this year from 562 last year.
Residents say they are not against the concept of housing for the homeless, just the placement of that housing in their neighborhood. The Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens Association, which represents about 800 households in the area, voted last week to oppose the project.
"I know there's a crucial need for these kinds of developments in our county and in this area," said Nora Carroll, a lawyer who has a daughter at Sligo Creek and another at the middle school. But, she said, "I have deep concerns about it being located immediately adjacent to two schools."
Alan Bowser, a lawyer who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years, said he would rather see the building turned into condominiums that teachers, police officers, firefighters and other county employees could afford.
County officials said they exercised a law that allows them to match any offer for a rental property built before 1981. In this case, the owner, an entity called 527 Dale LLC, already had a contract with a third party, officials said.
The county would spend $1.45 million to buy the building and $1.05 million for construction and such expenses as furnishing the units. Part of the funding would come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state, the county and private contributions, said Tedi Osias, director of legislative and public affairs for the Housing Opportunities Commission, which would manage the property.
London said officials will run criminal background checks on each potential resident. They will reject sex offenders, those with a history of violent crimes and people involved in recent drug-related activity, she said. "I think people have unrealistic and unfounded fears about who's going to be there," she said.