Leggett Addresses Expansion of Affordable Housing

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) made expansion of affordable housing a cornerstone of his campaign in 2006. He convened a task force to study the issue. Last week, he issued the group's report and endorsed many of its proposals at the annual affordable housing conference at the county's North Bethesda conference center. Here are excerpts from his speech:

When I took office just 16 months ago, it was clear that while the county had been addressing the growing problem of affordable housing, it was time to identify new solutions, tools and cutting edge ideas to combat what has become a dilemma of crisis proportion. . . .

The definition of "affordable housing" certainly has evolved. No longer does it mean housing only for individuals and families of low and moderate income. In fact, the commonly accepted standard for affordability is that a household should not pay more than three times its income for home ownership. Let's follow this to the logical conclusion for sake of today's discussions about our own community:

The annual median household income for our residents is $99,000. In 2007, the average cost of a new town home here was just shy of $475,000. The average cost of a new single family home is nearly $1 million. Existing town homes and single family prices range from an average of $365,000 to $569,000. We all can do the math.

This means that folks must make somewhere between $91,000 to $245,000 in order to purchase a home in Montgomery County. Rents are just as steep. A renter must make at least $38,000 a year in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment. These numbers are stunning. . . .

As you know, when I ran for county executive in 2006, promoting more affordable housing was at the top of my agenda. It continues to be one of my highest priorities. . . . Here's what we've done already:

· In my first budget, I increased the resources available to our Housing Initiative Fund to preserve and promote affordable housing to $30 million, over a 50 percent increase. In my current recommended budget, I've boosted that figure to $54 million. And, through leveraging county bonds, we will work to boost the total available to $80 million.

· I proposed -- and the council approved -- legislation to expand the county's "Right of First Refusal" to purchase rental housing constructed since 1981 to preserve its affordability. We have already used this authority to purchase condominiums in King Farm and on Aspen Court in Takoma Park.

· We have moved aggressively to construct affordable housing on county-owned sites as well: for example, 15 affordable and workforce attached units on Edson Lane in North Bethesda, up to 117 attached and mixed-income units on 32 acres in Olney, 80 units of new senior housing adjacent to the county government center in Rockville. We will construct multi-family housing above the new Silver Spring library on Bonifant Street. On the eight acres set aside next to the new 3rd District Police Station site in White Oak, we plan affordable units as well.

· I am also proposing to move at least the portion of the County Service Park that's west of Crabb's Branch Road to new locations to allow for implementation of the Shady Grove Sector Plan. This plan will involve the building of thousands of affordable units, as a Smart Growth development right next to the Shady Grove Metro station.

These initiatives alone should add thousands of affordable units to the county. But we can't stop there. That's why I appointed an Affordable Housing Task Force to assist me in developing a comprehensive plan to address this vexing problem. . . .

The task force recommends the creation of a Short Term Property Acquisition Fund. This fund would provide short-term financing to enable public, nonprofit or for-profit organizations to purchase affordable rental properties before they are sold and renovated for higher-rent occupancy or conversion to condominium ownership. We will fund this effort through a variety of public and private financing. . . .

With these enhanced resources, we will reduce the displacement of at-risk renter households due to condominium conversions. We will also increase the public and nonprofit ownership of affordable rental housing. . . .

It is recommended that the county provide temporary abatement of property taxes, transfer taxes and recordation fees for eligible county employees who purchase a home in the county. With such a program, we can avoid direct expenditures in this time of budgetary pressures, and still provide an opportunity to stabilize our public workforce when they choose to become homeowners in our neighborhoods. . . .

The task force recommends that all land-use master plans recognize and address the need for affordable housing in all of the county's communities. It also calls for streamlining the regulatory and permitting approval processes for affordable housing . . . and calls upon us to look at reducing the costs of residential development by being more flexible and market driven in our parking requirements for housing. . . . When implemented, the recommendations contained in this report will provide a toolbox of initiatives that will expand the county's ability to preserve and develop affordable housing.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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