Seven years ago, as new-home prices began escalating beyond the reach of moderate-income buyers, Montgomery County started requiring builders to include moderate-price units in their new subdivisions.
The county wanted to increase housing opportunities for buyers such as police officers and teachers, whose income could not allow them to locate in Montgomery. The average price of a new house there is $99,500.
Despite some kinks in the program, members of the County Council and the Housing Opportunities Commission and housing and community development organizations now say the experiment has been successful.
The county plans to continue the requirement, which has led to the sale or rental of 937 moderate- and low-price units; builders have contracts to build another 877 and are planning an additional 2,800 units.
Under the program, households earning up to $30,000 a yar can qualify to buy homes for about $50,000 -- in subdivisions where prices are much higher. Nearly all of the moderate-price units are town houses similar in appearance to their neighbors.
The county requires developers who plan to build more than 50 units in a subdivision to set aside 15 percent of them for moderate-income residents.
Of that 15 percent, the county's Housing Opportunities Commission has the right to purchase one-third to rent to low-income households or sell. The other two-thirds are sold directly to moderate-income families by the developer. In exchange for setting aside the units, the developer is allowed to build 20 percent more homes than the zoning normally allows.
Glenn Kreger of the county's Housing Opportunities Commission said that because of uncertain economic conditions, it was not clear how many of the moderate-price homes would be built next year. But he predicted that about 400 existing houses throughout the county would become available for sale next year, the same number that came on the market in 1980.
"[The number of units] will probably grow as more development comes under our purview," said commission spokesman Tad Baldwin.
Some changes in the housing program are under consideration, however. Among the proposals before the County Council is one to freeze the renting of low-income units by the Housing Opportunities Commission. It but would not affect families already renting.
The proposal is said to be unrelated to reported incidents in the McCrory subdivision of Montgomery Village, where owners of moderate-price homes complained that renters of low-price units disturbed the peace, harassed homeowners and didn't maintain their properties. Forty-nine McCrory residents rent and 113 own their homes. Homeowner income at McCrory averages $20,000 a year, while renter income averages $11,000, Baldwin said.
Some of the complaints about incidents at McCrory, lodged with the County Council and the housing commission, have been commercial vehicles parked on lawns, trash in a back yard and an alleged shooting, said Joyce Siegal, community relations officer for the commission.
She said that after county officials told one renter that he had to arrange for his own trash collection -- which is required of all residents of the development -- the backyard trash problem ended.
Reports of a shooting were never substantiated, Siegal said. "When people get upset, rumors become more real," she said. "I think the community is real unhappy right now."
The moderate-income homeowners at McCrory tend to be younger and upwardly mobile, while the renters are older and have teen-agers who congregate in parking lots playing loud music, Siegal said.
"We don't have evidence the tenants have disrupted or destroyed," she said.
One homeowner, who asked that her name not be used, said that while she liked most of her neighbors, "there are just a few families who spoil things. They make noise at night, play loud music. We just didn't expect that here." t
Siegal said some of the renters have not maintained their properties as well as the homeowners. For example, she said some renters have no coverings for their windows. The county is considering a loan program to help the renters buy such items, she said.
Another problem with the program is that Kettler Brothers, the McCrory developer, concentrated the low-income and moderate-income families on the same blocks, homeowners said.
"Most Americans prefer a homogeneous living environment," Baldwin said. "People don't like large congregations of low-income housing."
William N. Hurley, a Kettler Brothers vice president, said that the homes had to be built close together because of the way they were designed. Construction of a low-income unit adjacent to a higher-priced one, as is done in other developments, was impossible, Hurley said.
In the future, he said, the company will try to scatter the low-price units more widely. "We will have to come up with other construction techniques," he said.