ON MARCH 23, eviction procedures are scheduled to begin against the residents of about 150 apartments in Takoma Park. The apartments -- which were created when large houses were turned into multiple-family dwellings after World War II -- are illegal. The land had been zoned for single-family homes in 1928. Neighbors sued Montgomery County in the 1970s, citing crowded and unsightly conditions. In 1978 the county passed a new ordinance against multiple-family dwellings and gave the landlords 10 years to evict their tenants and get rid of the apartments.
The Takoma Park City Council recently asked the county council for a one-year delay and proposed county zoning changes that would allow most of the apartments to remain. Are County Executive Sidney Kramer and the county council doing the right thing, then, in going ahead with all of the evictions? The answer, for a number of reasons, is no.
The Washington area is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of affordable housing. In most instances, rare low- to moderate-income apartments have been bought by developers who renovated them for wealthier tenants. In the past, the federal government has sometimes come to the rescue in such cases: it provided Section 8 certificates that helped poor tenants rent apartments they could not otherwise have afforded. But the federal government has withdrawn that help, and it now falls to city, county and state governments to prevent further hardship and economic segregation.
In the Takoma Park case -- and only in the case of these 150 apartments -- an exception to the zoning law seems warranted. The units, for the most part, are well tended, and the many tenants are decent neighbors. Mr. Kramer has called for "compassionate enforcement" of the evictions and has pledged help in relocating -- but where? Montgomery County has more than 6,000 families on its waiting list for public housing, and unsubsidized housing where the rents range from $100 to $700 is pretty hard to find.
Neighbors have a right to expect that the apartments won't spoil the neighborhood. But the Takoma Park City Council was right to ask for the zoning changes that would permit most apartments to stay.