A Local Life: Peg McRory, advocate for Montgomery Co. housing reforms, dies at 89

By Lauren Wiseman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 11:45 PM

Peg McRory's housing crusade began in 1962 when she moved from Texas to Sandy Spring, a Montgomery County community with a large black population.

Eager to blend into the community, Mrs. McRory, who was white, volunteered as a tutor in her daughter's fourth-grade class at Sherwood Elementary School. She was surprised that some of her daughter's classmates were illiterate and living in dilapidated homes with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Because the homes violated county building codes, landlords could evict the residents at any time.

"Through this I learned that the worst, most obvious problem was really unbearable housing - shacks you wouldn't believe," she told The Washington Post in 1987.

Appalled by the squalor and substandard living conditions, she vowed to improve housing conditions and joined the League of Women Voters.

"In my generation, that was where you went to get anything done," Mrs. McRory told The Post in 1979.

During the late 1960s, she served as president of the Suburban Maryland Fair Housing Council, a group that fought housing discrimination.

After a decade of lobbying for affordable housing for the county's elderly, black and low-income residents, Mrs. McRory's work paid off.

In 1974, the Montgomery County Council passed the Moderately Priced Housing ordinance, which requires developers of 20 or more units to allocate 12.5 to 15 percent of the units for moderately priced dwellings. It also included builder incentives for providing affordable housing.

Today, the ordinance is part of the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program. The program allows nonprofits and Montgomery County's Housing Opportunities Commission to buy a percentage of units to be sold to low and moderate income families.

Mrs. McRory, 89, who died Nov. 3 at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney of acute myeloid leukemia, took on a key role in the creation and passage of this law.

"In her astute insight, she knew that fair housing is impossible without an adequate pool of reasonably priced housing opportunities," said Joyce Siegel, who advocated for affordable housing with Mrs. McRory in the 1960s and '70s.

Her dedication was unwavering. In 1973, on the one-year anniversary of the legislation's introduction, she brought a cake to the Montgomery County Council meeting. It took another year for the law to be passed.

"We felt at the time that Montgomery County was in danger of becoming a place only for people of means, and we thought it was important for people of ordinary means to live there as well," said Tom Schwab, a past president of the Suburban Maryland Fair Housing Commission, who worked with Mrs. McRory on drafting the law. "There is no question in my mind that without Peg, the legislation would not have happened."

After the ordinance was enacted, Mrs. McRory became an aide to County Councilwoman Elizabeth Scull to help monitor countywide enforcement efforts. In the late 1970s, she worked as a liaison between the council and local housing groups.

In the late 1980s, Mrs. McRory helped found the nonprofit Montgomery Housing Partnership, which develops, renovates and manages affordable housing in Montgomery.

Margaret Alward Hall was born April 5, 1921, in New York City and was the great-granddaughter of Julia Ward Howe, who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and Samuel Gridley Howe, who helped found and direct Boston's Perkins School for the Blind, the first school for the blind in the United States.

Her husband of 63 years, retired Air Force Lt. Col. George W. McRory Jr., died in 2005. Their daughter Elizabeth M. Webb died in 1992. Survivors include two daughters, Susan T. McRory of Boulder, Colo., and Camilla O. McRory of Olney; and two sisters.

Mrs. McRory said her efforts to improve housing in Montgomery were not always well received and faced opposition from homeowners.

" 'Not in my neighborhood' is a common syndrome in this country," she told The Post. "There's such a conviction that low-income people lower property values when there is no evidence that they do."

Keeping the example of her great-grandmother in mind, Mrs. McRory never thought about giving up.

"I started something, and you can't stop when the need is so great," she once said. "One of the lines [from 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'] is 'He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.' That's my motto."

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