The Montgomery County Council has agreed to set aside $2 million in county funds to provide small subsidies for some of the low and moderate-income renters who are struggling to pay the county's high housing costs.
Formal action on this rent supplement program has been postponed until June, but council members approved the concept in principle Monday and Council President Elizabeth Scull announced yesterday that the program will go into effect this summer.
County housing officials estimate that 8,000 families - a larger number than under any previous county program - will be eligible for grants under the new program, which is considerably broader the present rent relief program for the elderly and the disabled.
However, the average amounts of the supplemental grants will range from only $75 to $200 annually, according to Eugene Sieminski, county housing director.
"That's an advanced calculation," Sieminski said, "but (the program) may come out to be pretty thing by doing not much good for anyone. Or it may do a lot of good for a few people."
As currently planned, the eligibility requirements for the new program will be as strict or stricter than the guidelines used by any of the seven other housing assistance programs open to Montgomery County residents.
No family of four earning more than $11,250 annually would qualify for the new program.
The council initiated the new program to aid moderate-income tenants hit hard by the substantial rent increases that followed the elimination of county rent controls at the beginning of the year.
"Remember all that debate about rent control?" Scull asked, alluding to the strong protests the council heard against abolishing it. "Virtually everyone who wanted rent control hurried on to say that we should provide rent supplements, so here we are doing that."
"The Council felt it was not fair to ask the landlords to supplement the tenants," Scull said on the subject of rent control. "All the taxpayers should bear the burden."
Council member Jane Ann Moore voted against the program. "It's too small," she said.
The head of one county tenants' association said after the council action that rent supplements were better than no housing aid, but were nonetheless more demeaning for tenants than rent controls.
"We're for rent supplements," said Phil Ochs, vice president of the Montgomery County Tenants Association."But these people aren't poor. They work hard. It's a shame they have to accept rent supplements."
The council has yet to agree on the actual formula for giving out the supplements. Eligible tenants paying more than 25 to 35 percent of their incomes for rent are the ones most likelyto benefit, according to housing director Sieminksi.