The Montgomery County Council this week unanimously overrode the county executive's veto of funds in the new budget for an expanded rent supplement program.
The council had set aside $2 million for rent supplement payments. Without specifying the formula for payment, the council appropriated $1.25 million for actual spending and $750,000 in reserve. County Executive James P. Gleason two weeks ago vetoed the reserve.
Among other things, Gleason objected to the council pushing the price of his $1 million proposed rent relief program up another $1 million.
"We are not printing money in this government," Gleason said.
Not only did the council increase the amount of money to be spent on rent relief, but it also proposed changes in the program to include residents of all ages who meet income guidelines.
The council is expect to act June 20 on the legislation to set up the rent relief program, said council President Elizabeth Scull. Gleason could also veto that legislation, and the seven-member council could override the veto with five votes.
The county has been giving rent supplements to senior citizens and the disabled for the past four years, with $600,000 being spent this past fiscal year which ends the last day of June.
There are 2,100 Montgomery County residents participating in the rent relief program for senior citizens and the disabled, with the average payment this fiscal year being $244. Under the council's new program, persons now receiving rent supplements would get at least the payments they now receive. If they would get more money under the new program they will be allowed to apply for the new program.
When council members ended rent controls in December, they said they would consider a rent supplement program for tenants with moderate incomes.Although Gleason recommended a larger rent supplement during the past budget session, the council wanted a program that would benefit tenants of all ages who have problems paying their rents.
"It was part of our promise when we took away rent control that we would have rent relief," said council member Esther Gelman. "I'm just sorry we weren't able to get this, underway when rent control ended."
The council "can always pass a supplementary appropriation when they pass the legislation on the rent supplement program," Gleason said."But I want to see the legislation first. Besides that, I have a fundamental problem appropriating money for anyone other than low-income senior citizens who can't do anything about their condition."
In a work session this week the council budgeted $1.65 million of the $2 million for rent supplements for the estimated 6,000 families or households expected to apply for the new program. The council budgeted $350,000 as a reserve in case more persons apply. The council also decided how to split up the subsidies. Any tenant who qualifies will receive a flat payment of $175 a year, or approximately $14.50 a month.
The income guidelines selected by the council are the lowest they now use for any of their public housing programs. A one-person household making no more than $7,900 would be eligible, and a family of four with a total income of no more than $11,250 would also be eligible.
Residents in public housing programs are not eligible but welfare recipients are eligible.
"The original bill would have taken into account the percentage of a family's income that family has to pay for rent," said council President Scull, "but the computations are so terribly complicated that the council decided to go ahead with flat grants instead."
Scull said the flat grant system had some disadvantages. "In an effort to thwart people who would abuse the program, the council has perhaps worked a hardship on persons with the greatest need," she said, "but that often happens."
Scull said if the program works as calculated under the $1.65 million appropriation, she would consider using the reserve to finance bigger rent subsidies. "Without rent control, people experiencing rent increases," she explained. "I would think there are some who have had increases of more than $14.50 a month.
"I was disappointed when only a total of $2 million was earmarked for this program. People may be moderate income, but moderate income doesn't go as far as it used to. These incomes (specified by the program guidelines) don't sound really like hardships, and yet with today's prices in this county, they are hardships."