Members of the Montgomery County Council, worried that their county is becoming a place where only the wealthy can afford to live, yesterday adopted a comprehensive housing policy aimed at increasing supplies of affordable homes.
The 84-page policy statement stressed a growing imbalance in the county's housing stock, with more high-priced homes being built and fewer less expensive ones. The median sales price of a home in Montgomery is now nearly $110,000, the council said, making it difficult for even middle-income persons to buy housing. Rental property, too, is becoming increasingly scarce and costly.
"Some years ago the talk primarily consisted of the problems with the young and the elderly. Now we're talking about people who aren't poor, who are in the middle incomes, who can't afford to get onto the housing merry-go-round," said William Sher, Montgomery's housing policy coordinator.
Without some action by the county government, he added, the housing situation "would turn into the worst of the conditions that existed before World War II, when nobody owned their own homes."
The new housing policy, the first ever adopted by the council, outlines ways in which the government can encourage construction of less expensive homes. While it is not legally binding, council members said yesterday they look upon it as a guide to be followed in future decisions affecting housing.
The document calls for streamlining some regulations and removing others, and urges county government to use its influence in "convincing private financial markets to provide mortgages at still lower rates of interest, through 'creative financing' along new and more predictable lines."
Sher said that policy would amount to "convincing bankers that the old forms of lending aren't applicable anymore."
The policy encourages construction of small, attached homes that are more energy efficient. It also calls for placing significant amounts of housing in central business districts and near transportation. In particular, the document recommends setting aside land for housing in the I-270 and Rte. 29 corridors.
In other areas, it calls for providing assisted housing (in which owners receive government subsidies or rent supplements) where possible, for eliminating discrimination in housing procedures and for efforts to assist developers by insuring that needed county services will be available.