Despite the prospect of significant cuts to close a projected $320 million budget gap, Montgomery County officials say they plan to maintain funding to provide more affordable housing.

Housing advocates praised members of the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) for responding to what some have called a housing crisis in the county.

Zachary Smith, public information officer for the county's Housing Opportunities Commission, said HOC has 9,431 residents on a waiting list for affordable housing. Smith said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Montgomery County is $1,120 a month.

"There are 62,000 people in Montgomery County who cannot afford to pay market rates," Smith said. "There is a tremendous demand for affordable housing."

Duncan pledged last year to set aside 2.5 percent of property tax revenue to increase the stock of moderately priced housing in Montgomery.

He said that $16 million would be placed in the 2004 operating budget to be presented to the County Council on March 17.

"The elected leadership of this county is committed to increasing the stock of affordable housing, and while we may have a few differences on some of the details, we stand united in the overall goal of ensuring housing for all," Duncan said.

Another Nay on Slots

As debate continued to grow more heated over the subject of slot machines last week, one key member of the Montgomery County legislative delegation made known her stand on the subject. Although Senate Delegation Chairman Ida G. Ruben (D) was listed in last week's Washington Post survey as uncommitted, she says now that she plans to oppose any legislation that would make slot machine gambling legal in Maryland.

"I feel it will bring social ills into the state," said Ruben, a member of the Senate budget committee that will consider slots legislation. "You have to balance your budget on a solid foundation, not on something flimsy like this."

Ruben's stance means 23 of Montgomery County's 32 state lawmakers now oppose expanding legal gambling in Maryland.

New Black Democratic Leaders

The African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County recently elected new leaders to help move the organization forward and encourage more blacks to become involved in the political process.

Michael C. Griffiths, the newly elected president, said one of the most important goals during his term will be to ensure the long-term survival of the club. His mission includes finding new and creative ways to raise operating funds and increase membership.

In addition to Griffiths, the other newly elected officers are: Gail Street, first vice president; Ann DeLacy, second vice president; Delores D. Willis, recording secretary; Elaine Bachelor, correspondence secretary; Tina Clarke, financial secretary; Charmaine Morgan, treasurer; Irma Cuellar, historian; and Sharon Burrell, parliamentarian.

The African American Democratic Club was established two years ago by black professionals in Montgomery County who say they intend to bring more black voters into county and state political activities and challenge elected officials to address African American concerns that have been overlooked.

Isiah Leggett, then a Montgomery County Council member, was a co-founder of the club. Leggett, now chairman of Maryland's Democratic Party, was the council's first black elected official and served for 16 years.

In the past few years, other minority groups in Montgomery, which is heavily Democratic, have formed Democratic clubs to increase their influence in local party politics. Clubs have been organized by Asians and Hispanics.

With more than 300,000 black, Hispanic and Asian residents, Montgomery County is nearly 40 percent minority, but the elected and appointed leadership is still overwhelmingly white.

A record number of African Americans ran for elective offices in 2002, and members of the African American Democratic Club held forums, volunteered in campaign offices, contributed financially and hosted fundraising parties.

For the first time, African Americans were elected in the county as state delegates: Democrats Herman L. Taylor II (District 14) and Gareth E. Murray (District 20).

One of the challenges now, Griffiths said, is to elect a black County Council member. The council has no black representatives.