A recently-released report on Montgomery County's future housing needs recommends that much of the new low- and moderate-income housing built in the next 12 years be located in the county's wealthier areas, particularly Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
This proposal, part of a comprehensive housing study now being reviewed by the County Council, is designed to even out the distribution of subsidized housing units through out the county.
The problem of low-income housing distribution is reflected around the Washington area. At the moment much of the area's subsidized housing for low- to moderate-income families is crowded within Prince George's County and Alexandria.
Wealthier jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County, find themselves facing dilemmas created by citizen opposition. Almost every proposal for subsidized housing in Fairfax County-where an average house is valued at $70,000-has been bitterly contested.
Montgomery County's proposed "fair share distribution policy" calls for the creation of 11,566 new subsidized housing units, which would bring the county's total to 17,640.
About a fifth of the new subsidized units would be located in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, bringing the total of subsidized units there from 171 to 2,518. The Olney area, where there are almost no subsidized units, would be the site of 691 new apartments.
Other areas that would receive the greatest concentrations of the new subsidized housing units-units that either would be the result of new construction or from conversion of existing apartments into subsidized units-include Wheaton, Kensington, and Gaithersburg.
Although the plan has been debated at a public hearing, housing specialists and county officials, who differ on its merits themselves, are anticipating some of the same community opposition that they face when locating such controversial facilities as landfills.
"Assisted housing is worse than a landfill to some people," said a housing specialist. "When I pointed to a site in Potomac that I thought would be ideal for assisted housing, some of my friends said they'd rather have a sewage treatment plant there."
The backers of the concept, however, are quick to point out that although the word "sibsidized" raises a red flag to many people it hardly means "poor." "The people we are talking about in the proposal (represent) 80 per cent of the (families in the) metropolitan area"-those earning the median income of $18,000 for a family of four-said Eugene Sieminski, director of the county's office of housing.
In a county where the average newly-built house currently costs $120,000, "subsidies are necessary for moderate income families now as well as low-income," said council member Elizabeth Scull. "That means our elderly and many of our children."
The fair share idea was developed by former County Executive James P. Gleason as one of a string of proposals to fill a moderate-cost housing gap that many housing specialists believe has reached a crisis stage in the county. In Montgomery, the median family income exceeds $27,000.
The dilemma involves far more than the simple arithmetic of housing construction. One of the county's objectives is to provide affordable housing for the employes of new businesses that the county is wooing to complete economically with other metropolitan jurisdictions, such as Fairfax and Prince George's countries.
During his campaign, the new county executive, Charles W. Gilchrist, endorsed the concept of evenly distributed subsidized housing units in principle. He has not, however, reviewed the specific proposal, according to his assistant, Tom Stone.
Of the 11,566 new units proposed in the report, 8,080 would serve families and 3,457 would house the elderly. But new family housing is recommended as part of mixed developments in which subsidized housing would be no more than one-quarter of the total.
There are now 6,074 subsidized units in the county.
The new distribution formula was, in part, an effort to placate communicaties such as Gaithersburg and Aspen Hill, whose residents have complained that since they have a good deal of vacant land, they are being inundated with subsidized developments.
The county's housing office already has mapped out prospective sites and has been inundated itself with subsidized housing proposals from developers. Among potential sites being mentioned are unused school properties, where schools have been closed or have not yet been built.
"We have developers calling almost every day," said Sieminski. "It's a way to get swear, financing and build on ground you can't otherwise develop."
The county's planning board has taken a less than enthusiastic approach to the fair-share plan, calling it "overly statistical," too heavily dependent on waning federal funds and ignoring the adequacy of public facilities that make housing sites desirable.