Monday, February 22, 2021

MoCo wants to create more affordable homes in wealthy neighborhoods. but when?

Montgomery County has a housing shortage, particularly for lower-priced homes. The median home price is now $500,000, 14% more than last year. Inside the Beltway and near the Red Line, prices can be significantly higher as people compete for a limited supply of houses.

Montgomery County wants to make it easier to build “missing middle” homes, like this triplex in Silver Spring. All photos by the author.

That’s happening in part because of single-family zoning, which was created in the early 20th century to keep Black people out of white and affluent neighborhoods by making townhomes and apartments illegal. This policy — along with racial covenants and redlining — still contributes to segregation today, but it also makes housing more expensive and inaccessible for everyone. That’s why places from Minneapolis to Sacramento are opening up their single-family zones.

In December, County Councilmember Will Jawando introduced a bill, ZTA 20-07, that would allow duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings on “R-60” lots within one mile of Red Line stations. If passed, the bill would change planning permissions for about 24,000 lots where today you can only build one house and an accessory apartment.

“We must have an all hands on deck approach that includes multiple solutions” to address the housing shortage, he wrote in a letter to the County Council.

Montgomery County has a goal to build 41,000 homes by 2030 to meet the shortage. The Planning Department is already working on its own plans to create more “missing middle” homes, including one focused on downtown Silver Spring that could involve zoning changes and Thrive 2050, which looks at the entire county and will not involve any zoning changes. Both of these efforts will play out over the next several months, with many opportunities for public input.

Hurry up, or wait

So now there’s a debate: pass Jawando’s bill and allow more homes today, or take our time and potentially allow more homes in the near future?

Friday, February 5, 2021

this black history month, think about the power you wield

When little kids learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., they usually hear a version of this story: when Dr. King was a child, a white friend says they can’t play together anymore because his parents won’t let him play with a Black child. It’s the inciting incident in Dr. King’s story, what inspires him to fight for justice.

Students organized this Black Lives Matter protest in Bethesda last summer. Photo by the author.

King came from a relatively comfortable family. He grew up in a large Victorian house originally built for a white family. Both of his parents went to college, as did he and both of his siblings. His sister was a professor. None of those things could protect him from the whims of a white person defining where, when, how, or even if they would engage with him.

Decades after the Civil Rights movement, segregation and discrimination persist because that power imbalance still exists. This Black History Month, if you’re planning to do a day of service or support a Black-owned business, I encourage you to take it a step further and examine the power structures in your community.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

two bills could bring rent control and “missing middle” homes to montgomery county

If you’ve tried to find a home in Montgomery County recently, you know things are rough. The county has a housing shortage, with 23,000 homes needed in the next 10 years. The median home price in the county is a half-million dollars, 14% more than last year. Rents are rising more slowly, but some tenants still received 33% rent increases this year. An estimated 20,000 households are behind on rent due to pandemic-related financial hardship, and could get evicted.

Montgomery County could legalize "missing middle" homes, like this triplex and duplex in Silver Spring, within one mile of Metro stations. All images by the author.

This year, county leaders have hustled to find solutions: capping rent increases during COVID-19, tax incentives to build homes at Metro stations, and getting rid of the housing moratorium, which blocked new homes near crowded schools. Last week, County Councilmember Will Jawando introduced two bills dubbed “More Housing for More People” that could go even further.

Monday, December 7, 2020

MoCo is working on a plan to tackle racial equity, public health, and climate change

The Montgomery County we know today may exist because of a little-known document written over 50 years ago. As county planners work on a replacement, they’re tackling some big issues, like racial equity, public health, and a slow economy.

A glimpse of our possible future? Image by Montgomery County Planning Department.

When most people think of Montgomery County, they might think of a prosperous, affluent bedroom suburb. It is one of the nation's richest counties and the largest employment center in Maryland. But household incomes have been flat for 30 years, and home prices jumped 14% just this year. Schools and neighborhoods are segregated by class and race, and Black and Latinx residents are more likely to be unemployed or pay more of their income for housing. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of adults were overweight or obese.

Over the past year, Montgomery County planners have been trying to find solutions, and put them together in Thrive 2050, an ambitious document for how the county should grow and change over the next thirty years. Thrive wouldn't actually change laws or policies: Planning Board chairman Casey Anderson called it a “plan for other plans," helping leaders make laws or policies in the future. The plan's big themes include racial justice, affordable homes, and more transportation options.

"A plan for other plans"

This isn't the first big plan Montgomery County has made. In the 1960s, the Planning Department produced “On Wedges and Corridors”, when people were leaving cities for the suburbs. Back then, the county doubled in population every 10 years, growing as fast as cities like Los Angeles and Houston. At the time, new suburban developments were messy and disorganized, lacking schools, roads, or parks.