Clarification to This Article
An Oct. 25 Metro article said that Gaithersburg resident Bob Drzyzgula is a critic of a proposed day-laborer center in the city. Drzyzgula said that he does not object to the proposed center in concept but that he was against an earlier plan to locate one near his home.

Affording Gaithersburg

Jacynth Hughes-Senning can't afford to buy a home. The proposal is
Jacynth Hughes-Senning can't afford to buy a home. The proposal is "a good stopgap, but it is minimal," she says. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington)
By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

For Edgardo Garcia, an immigrant from El Salvador, an affordable housing proposal under consideration by Gaithersburg officials could give him the opportunity to buy a home after six years of renting an apartment.

For Bob Drzyzgula, a homeowner and 17-year city resident, the proposal could mean more "slums" for a downtown that many say sorely needs upscale businesses and homes.

These opposing views underscore the culture clash dividing Gaithersburg, a city of about 60,000 residents whose suburban comforts have given way to the urban challenges of an economically and racially diverse community. As the City Council considers a proposal to require developers to set aside affordable housing for moderate-income and middle-class families, it is also struggling to find a location for an employment center for day laborers, many of them immigrants.

"It's not this little city anymore," said Grace Rivera-Oven, who has a local cable show and has been a vocal supporter of the day-laborer center. "I think [there's] a socioeconomic division, and you add . . . different people from different places, and I guess it's kind of a little bit of a 'not in my back yard' kind of thing. People are threatened by it."

Many residents think that the city has gone too far to accommodate recently arrived immigrants, legal or illegal, who are attracted to Gaithersburg's abundance of rental apartments. The city's population is at least 20 percent Latino. At a council meeting this month, some of the people who spoke in opposition to the center also voiced objections to the proposed affordable housing policy.

If approved, the policy would require developers to set aside 7.5 percent of owner-occupied units for moderate-income households -- those earning 60 to 80 percent of the area median income of $90,300. Another 7.5 percent would be so-called "workforce housing" -- for those making 80 to 120 percent of the median income. For rental units, developers would have to make 15 percent of the units moderately priced.

The council is expected to vote on the measure early next month.

Gaithersburg, an incorporated city about 13 miles north of Washington, is exempt from Montgomery County's requirement that developers reserve 12.5 percent of new homes for moderate-income households and that 10 percent of residences around Metro stops be reserved for workforce housing.

"My wife and I walk through Olde Towne Gaithersburg very often, and, to be frank, it's a little bit above a slum," resident Clark Day said at the hearing. "I don't see why it is that people who can't afford to live in Montgomery County have to get a handout so that they can be close to where they work. I just don't get that."

That kind of rhetoric draws a sharp rebuke from housing advocates.

"These are working-class people," activist Patty Kaczmarski said at the hearing. "They're working, a lot of them, for below minimum wage. They are holding down two jobs. They are not lazy, they are not stupid and they are not trying to get a handout from anybody."

The debate in Gaithersburg reflects what is happening across the region, City Council member Michael A. Sesma said. As more people are priced out of the inner suburbs, they are moving farther out in search of affordable housing. At the same time, the region is attracting more immigrants.

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