Growth, Housing Shape Campaign

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006

In a race in which the two Democratic candidates for Montgomery county executive have struggled to differentiate themselves, Steven A. Silverman and Isiah Leggett began drawing lines yesterday over their views on affordable housing and growth.

In an often testy exchange at a day-long conference on affordable housing in Rockville, Leggett, a former County Council member, continued to portray himself as a moderate on growth issues, and council member Silverman (At Large) said that slowing development would limit the supply of less expensive homes.

In the past year, Silverman has tried to soften his reputation as a pro-fast growth candidate who accepts an inordinate amount of campaign contributions from developers. He has said at several forums and debates that he would closely limit and manage growth. But yesterday, he said that Leggett wants to limit growth too much.

"I don't know how we're going to be able to provide affordable and middle-class housing if we further constrain the number of housing units in Montgomery County," Silverman said.

Leggett said he would slow growth and force developers to spend more to build roads and schools. "I believe that we can grow wisely, smartly and a little slower in order to have the right infrastructure in place," he said.

Silverman and Leggett are thought to be in a close race for the nomination as the Democratic candidate, who usually wins in Montgomery. The candidates have similar platforms and have sought to distinguish themselves mostly on leadership and qualifications.

With the party primaries four months away, the candidates are starting to more aggressively attack each other on issues -- housing and growth prominent among them. The county's median price for a single-family home is $550,000, putting a home purchase beyond the reach of many middle-class families.

The two Democrats were joined at an afternoon forum by Republican candidate Charles R. Floyd, a former State Department employee.

The three candidates outlined affordable-housing plans during the discussion.

The county requires developers to set aside 12.5 percent of the housing units they build as moderately priced units for individuals and families who make up to 70 percent of the regionwide median income of $90,300 for a family of four and $72,240 for a family of two.

Leggett said the county should encourage residential developments on publicly owned land where homes would be sold for $300,000 to $350,000. Each development would have 50 to 100 units. Leggett said the county could pay for such an initiative with the money it saved by requiring developers to build the roads and schools to service those developments.

Silverman said Leggett's plan would produce economically segregated communities. "I want to continue to make sure we have economically integrated communities."

Leggett responded sharply, accusing Silverman of "scare-tactic stuff."

Silverman has proposed requiring developers in areas around Metro stations to reserve 10 percent of units for middle-class residents, including teachers, firefighters and other county employees. Those units would be in addition to the 12.5 percent currently required countywide. The council plans to vote on that measure this summer. Leggett has called Silverman's plan inadequate.

Floyd said he would require developers to deed 10 percent of their units to the county for use as housing for public safety employees.

Silverman also announced that he would ask the council to create a housing policy commission to come up with recommendations for solving the crises. "This is going to be a working group charged with putting ideas on the table," he said.

Floyd and Leggett dismissed the idea. "We've got a lot of commissions," Leggett said. "What we don't have is the implementation of a lot of stuff."

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