It's time to begin a concerted campaign of nonviolent resistence. Last week the Montgomery County Council voted not only to enforce a misbegotten zoning law that will result in the destruction of some 300 affordable rental units in Takoma Park; they also voted against holding a public hearing so that citizens might explain why the law is unjust and why it must be changed.
Forty-five years ago, because of a wartime housing shortage, homeowners were encouraged to install apartments in their homes. Many in Takoma Park did so. That and the desire of many to provide inexpensive housing for students at Takoma Park's Columbia Union College and workers at Washington Adventist Hospital resulted in the creation of hundreds of apartments in what originally had been neighborhoods of single-family homes. Over the years, these apartments have provided stable housing for thousands of our neighbors. Sixty percent of Takoma Park residents are renters.
Ten years ago, some of our neighbors raised concerns about rundown buildings and what they saw as the general deterioration of our neighborhoods. As a result, the county council enacted a law requiring owners of multi-family houses to convert their property back to single-family use. The deadline for these reconversions is March 23. As many as 1,000 people could lose their homes.
It is wrong to throw out our neighbors who rent, regardless of how we disguise it, how we do it, or how much largess we dispense in the process. Why?
First, because the availability of affordable housing is decreasing, while homelessness is increasing. Only a month ago, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer told The Post: ''We do not have adequate low- and moderate-income housing in this county.'' According to the Council of Governments in a 1985 report, 134,000 subsidized rental housing units are needed, yet Montgomery County provides only slightly more than 5,000, and there is already a waiting list of more than 6,000 people. How can the county executive and council tolerate a law that could add hundreds more to that list?
Second, concerns about neighborhood deterioration have been or can be met by existing means and without reconversions and mass evictions. With the creation of a housing department in Takoma Park itself, tightened property maintenance codes, beefed-up code enforcement and the creation of a municipal law giving tenants the right to recover damages from landlords who do not properly maintain apartments, the problems of 10 years ago have abated.
Actually, claims of our neighborhoods' demise are greatly exaggerated. With demographic changes ''Tackie Park'' is fast becoming ''The Park.'' In fact, according to real estate industry sources, the average price of a single-family home here rose from $97,356 in 1984 to $133,860 in 1987. That's a 12 1/2 percent annual increase. In some measure it is the desire of speculators and brokers to get in on the action that is fueling the effort -- disguised as zoning enforcement -- to force at least 100 more houses onto the real estate market. These people know that residential homes are easier to sell than rental property.
Instead of relying on a law that could prove harmful to our community, we must look to new and appropriate zoning laws that will preserve and protect Takoma Park's much cherished diversity. It is imperative for those of us who moved here to keep Takoma Park a gritty, funky architectural hodgepodge, which is home to students and families and artists and workers and two-income professional couples who come in all colors and ages and classes and political leanings.
We must put a stop to urban migration. Arlington's Lee Gardens is renovated and hundreds of people are forced to move; Silver Spring's Falkland Apartments suffer the same fate, and thousands are forced to move. Capitol Hill goes upscale, and people such as myself move to Adams Morgan. When Adams Morgan suffers the same fate, people move to Takoma Park. In Takoma Park, people are saying: ''Enough!''
There must be an immediate moratorium placed on the March 23 enforcement deadline. We need to recognize that multi-family and single-family homes, regardless of legal status, have existed side by side for two generations in Takoma Park. Let's create a new zoning classification or special exception to preserve, not eliminate Takoma Park's affordable housing stock.
-- Tom Gagliardo