The Montgomery County Council introduced a bill this week that would establish a $901,000 program to provide monthly financial help to residents who have difficulty paying their rent.
If the bill passes, it will mark the first time that the Montgomery County government has subsidized rent programs for residents other than those who are disabled or elderly.
"There are other poor people in the county who are under 65 and who are not handicapped who have problem paying their rents," said Councilman John Menke who co-sponsored the bill with council members Dickran Hovespian and Esther Gelman.
"They're having a tough time," said Menke. "There are some poor people in the county with rents that equal 50 percent of their income who are trying to live cheap."
Menke said that the Office of Housing estimates that some 4,000 families - not including those receiving federal housing assistance or public assistance - will come under the guildelines of the proposed bill. Most of the elderly and disabled already served by the county program of rent relief - which the proposed bill would supercede - will qualify for the new program, Menke said.
Under bill, a family whose rent amounted to more than 30 percent of its income would be provided with a supplement that would amount to 50 percent of the excess cost.
The bill sets income levels for eligibility, based on the number of the members in a family. It also says they must be living in housing that is priced at "fair market rents" established by the Office of Housing and Urban Development as one of the standards in determining who in the metrolpolitan area can get federal assistance.
Citizens now receiving federal assistance or welfare would not be eligible for the proposed program.
The council members said this type of program is the natural follow-up to abolishing rent control. Hundreds of residents protested at the public hearings in December that their rents were too high for them to afford.
"I approve this approach for people who need assistance, as opposed to the blanket approached of rent control," said Council President Elizabeth Scull. "But we may have to change some of the percentages," she added referring to the cut-offs for rents and payments. "I want to hear what the people have to say."
The average payments under this proposed bill made over the course of a year will range from $175 to $400 per family, with the average payment at $197 per year, according to Menke.
The council introduced another rent relief program at the request of County Executive James P. Gleason.
"It's a continuation of the existing program," said Philip Tierney, the legislative counsel for the county council. Currently, renters who are elderly or disabled receive rent relief based on their income, said Tierney. The executive's bill would raise the maximum annual income for those receiving aid from $10,000 to $13,550. The maximum yearly grant with this bill would rise from about $220 to $500, said Tierney.
The program, which currently serves about 3,000 persons at a cost of about half a million dollars, probably would make another 1,000 persons eligible, according to Tierney.
"I'm introducing this bill only at the request of the executive," said Scull of Gleason's measure. "I oppose the county executive's bill. Through this bill (the executive) is only willing to reduce the hardships of some of the people."
The County Council will hold a public hearing on both bills at 8 p.m. March 23 in the council hearing room.
County officials said that more than 500 Montgomery County households receive federal assistance for housing. According to statistician Dorothy Carter of the County Department of Social Services, there are 4,444 cases, including individuals and families, of public assistance - persons receiving some form of welfare - in the county.