Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist issued a housing policy statement yesterday that gives "high priority" to building low-income units in affluent Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac.
The policy, which must be approved by the country council, would limit construction of the units in less affluent areas such as Takoma Park and Silver Spring. Residents of those communities argue that they bear an unequal share of subsidized housing in teh county.
"We want to disperse such housing in various parts of the county," Gilchrist said. "Most of the county is appropriate for assisted housing but there are some areas where legitimate questions should be raised."
Gilchrist issued the policy as a result of the controversy in the county about where subsidized housing should be built. Virtually anywhere subsidized housing is proposed in the county, therer are people who live nearby who oppose it.
Potomac, the wealthiest area of the county, has only 5.7 percent of the county's assisted housing. Bethesda has 3 percent of the county's assisted units.
Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, which have two of the lowest median incomes in the county, have 10.8 percent and 14.2 of the county's assisted units, respectively, according to housing opportunity commission figures.
The commission says there is a waiting list of 5,500 persons who need public housing in the county.
Residents of both wealthy and poor areas of the county who were shown drafts of the report said they agreed with the idea behind the policy, that all areas of the county should get a fair share of subsidized housing. But they criticized it for different reasons.
A member of the Potomac Valley Civic Association said she thought it would be unfair to put poor people in her neighborhood because "they won't feel comfortable.
"I wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood where the people are five times as well off," said the woman who did not want to be identified. "It's hard to explain to kids why they can't have certain things when their neighbors have them."
Eilene Cotter of Silver Spring, president of the Silgo-Branview Civic Association, criticized the policy because it does not stop developers from building subsidized housing in poor neighborhoods. Despite the policy, Cotter said, it would be unlikely that subsidized housing would be built in Potomac because most of the land there is zoned for one house per every one or two acres.
"The policy never says that developers can't put housing in poor neighborhoods," Cotter said. "And if wealthy neighborhoods aren't suitable because of their master plan or because land there is too expensive, the subsidized housing will go to poor neighborhoods."
Tom Brown, a planner with the county housing department, said there are "fewer opportunities" to build subsidized housing in Potomac than in other areas, but said the county nevertheless would encourage developers to build there. "We have to see to it that we use those limited opportunities," Brown said.
Officials from the department determined which areas were high priority or low priority for building subsidized housing by analyzing the demographics of each of the 148 census tracts in the country. Census tracts were assigned a low priority if they had a high proportion of minority students, welfare recipients, unemployed persons, persons who live in subsidized housing and persons who rent, rather than own, their homes.
On a scale of 9 to 18 for example, one census tract in Takoma Park was awarded 15 points -- low priority for subsidized housing -- because it showed so many poor criteria. Census tract 5901 in Bethesda was awarded only four points -- two for minority students and two for having unemployed persons -- making it a high priority for subsidized housing.
Gilchrist's policy on subsidized housing was part of an overall housing policy in which he stressed the need for more moderate-income housing in the county and suggested that developers pay more attention to building homes near Metro stations as well as businesses.