Nancy McDonald Ladd is co-chair of Action In Montgomery.Robert Goldman is president of Montgomery Housing Partnership on behalf of the Montgomery Housing Alliance.
As the ink dries on the Montgomery County budget for fiscal 2016, we hear endlessly about its constraints. But as the county becomes the new home of suburban poverty, we also hear from families struggling to make ends meet that the status quo will not stand. The disturbing calamity that we face is a steep and mounting crisis of housing affordability.
The budget is inadequate to address this crisis, which calls for a bold approach for next year.
County officials want the county to be a hub of creativity and economic vitality and to have the kind of development that comes along with a booming business and human-services sector. But our current housing production results almost exclusively in units that are so expensive that they cut out the very workers the county needs to foster economic growth.
The median cost to rent an apartment in Montgomery County is $1,562. For this to be affordable, a household needs an income of more than $62,000. Thirty-eight percent of the households in the county make $75,000 or less every year.
Workers are bearing the burden caused by this housing crisis. Nurses can’t afford to live in the vicinity of their emergency rooms. Firefighters live far afield from the flames. Even millennials, the group that corporations such as Marriott desperately want to attract, struggle to find an affordable place to live in Montgomery County. In the county’s lower-income school districts, families double and triple up in one home so their children can make it through the year at the same school. More than half of renters in the county and more than a quarter of homeowners are “housing burdened” — paying more than 30 percent of their income just to keep a roof over their head.
The county executive has long held affordable housing as one of his administration’s top priorities because he is aware of both the moral and fiscal imperatives that undergird continued inaction as this crisis mounts.
We are losing 3,000 units of affordable housing each and every year as our stock of affordable apartments gets bulldozed for luxury housing. However, this year the budget for the county’s Housing Initiative Fund, which leverages private investment to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing, was funded at a level significantly below the high watermark for the fund, at a time when public investment is critical. The District’s Housing Production Trust Fund provides $100 million annually for the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Montgomery County’s Housing Initiative Fund and Housing First only provides $44 million for the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
Our future depends on our ability to sustain an economically, generationally and ethnically diverse community that is livable for all. As community leaders and affordable housing providers, we are willing to be a part of the solution. We have been here all along, moving one brick at a time off the mountainous problem before us and repositioning it into the foundations of strong communities. But we cannot do it alone.
To provide a voice to the many families in need of affordable housing, community organizations, congregations and affordable housing providers have joined together to form a new coalition, the Montgomery Housing Alliance, dedicated to ending the affordable housing crisis.
We call on the county executive and the County Council to come together now to begin to create a new budget blueprint looking forward to the next two budgets — and beyond. It is time to create a new budget framework that addresses the growing needs of those who are struggling to make ends meet in this county. The county must consistently fund the Housing Initiative Fund at a level almost double of this year’s investment and work collaboratively with developers and the community to make the best use of public land and resources to create and preserve at least 1,000 units of affordable housing every year.
And perhaps above all, this community needs to change its persistent attitude of “not in my back yard,” to “yes in my back yard.” Yes to safe and affordable housing for our treasured elders. Yes to first apartments for a young creative workforce. Yes to families working hard to be a part of our thriving school system. Yes to the continued economic security upon which we all rely. These are challenging times, and we are calling on our county leaders to rise to the occasion and move us in the right direction.