Monday, September 4, 2006

the affordable housing debate continues

Yesterday's Post has an article about the continuing debate on how Montgomery County should provide more affordable housing. The article opens with a single mother living in a Rockville shelter who makes just over eight thousand dollars a year, but the real focus is on how Silverman and Leggett are just trying to one-up each other:
Leggett characterized as inadequate Silverman's workforce housing program, which is expected to yield 2,500 affordable units over 20 to 30 years, and the moderately priced housing program, which produced 400 units last year . . . Silverman also has attacked Leggett's plan for clusters of middle-class housing, saying it would create economically segregated communities -- an assertion Leggett has rejected. "I just think that's a bad idea," Silverman said. "That's not the policy of economic integration that we have had."
It's a shame that our two front-runners are squabbling over proposals that neither of which will do anything to improve the County's affordable housing crisis. Silverman's plan, which involves allowing developers to build taller buildings in exchange for providing affordable housing, would produce barely one hundred affordable homes per year. It sounds like for all of the new towers the County will get there will be only a slight increase in subsidized units. Maybe it is a reward for developers, as Leggett said.

But he doesn't get off so easily, either. Leggett's proposal is to build clusters of about fifty moderately priced homes throughout the County, though he doesn't say where they would go. This doesn't seem any better than the current MPDU program, which has produced incongruous-looking projects like the Scotland community in Potomac, best known as the breeding ground for Churchill High's football team. Are a handful of poor black families in a super-wealthy town "diversity"? No.

Maybe Leggett wants to see a revival of the massive, 1940's-era developments like Viers Mill Village in Glenmont. Sixty years ago, it was completely white and completely middle-class; today, it's become a place for families of all colors to work their way up the economic ladder, as can be seen in the multiple additions tacked on to the little bungalow-style houses. Subsidized housing is not an end; it's a means to better and more stable life for families in need. When our County Executive candidates finally understand that, we can start working on the affordable housing crisis.


Robin Ficker said...

Where is the low income housing in King Farm, Kentlands, Lakelands, Clarksburg and Crown Farm? Leggett and Silverman haven't given us low income housing in the last 20 years together. Why should we give them four more years?

Silver Springer said...

"Silverman's plan, which involves allowing developers to build taller buildings in exchange for providing affordable housing, would produce barely one hundred affordable homes per year. It sounds like for all of the new towers the County will get there will be only a slight increase in subsidized units. Maybe it is a reward for developers, as Leggett said.

I wish people would think of the alternatives before opening their mouths. What should be done instead? More environmentally damaging subdivisions like Deer Park? By the way are we even getting any MPDU's out of that development? NO!

No one can think of a better plan but I can think of numerous reasons why this kind of high density and height development is such a huge benefit to the county.

1)Curbs sprawl (directs developers towards efficient high density development instead of low density inefficient sprawl).

2)Saves the Agricultural Reserve.

3)Smart Growth

4)Revitalizes cities

5)Makes Montgomery County economically competitive with nova.

6)Environmentally Friendly

7)Reduces and mitigates traffic


There are many more good reasons. Building taller (especially around metro stations) is not "givin it up to the developer" it is EFFICIENT AND LOGICAL.

I also want to point out that Montgomery does a spectacular job on affordable housing compared to its neighbor Fairfax, Loudon etc which virtually have no system for affordable housing. No one complains about them yet it is ok to call them the richest counties in the nation and largest job hubs outside D.C. How are they putting in their fair share?

Look outside your backyards people, there is another world out there.

thecourtyard said...

Whoa. Are you talking to me or to the NIMBYs? Your tone's a little harsh there.

And is Deer Park "environmentally damaging"? Now you sound like my NIMBY neighbors. Better here than in West Virginia . . .

Rfustero said...

There is still a place for 4% mortgages in all these plans, and it would not cost the taxpayers anything.

Silver Springer said...

I'm talking to anyone who is against taller buildings.

Yes, building closer to where the jobs are is better than building in WV but some greenfield development of 12 homes or 1200 homes isn't going to trump a 300' ft high rise infill development of offices, shops, and homes. The benefits far out weigh the costs with the latter.

Silver Springer said...

Also, saying taller buildings is a reward for developers sounds a lot more NIMBYish.

Like I said before Montgomery county has done a lot more than other counties as far as affordable housing goes. It's time for Fairfax, Loundon, Arlington, Alexandria and the rest of the Northern Virginian gang to pick up the slack.

get real said...

You can blame county government all you want, but the reality is that someone has to pay to build housing. It doesn't come for free. Land costs a LOT here and construction materials cost more and more every year. People who spout off about politicians' failure to provide affordable housing don't understand that politicians don't build housing, builders do-- and they are in the business to do business, not to do charity.

Robin Ficker said...

It's true that politicians don't build affordable housing, builders do. But builders don't want to build affordable housing; for, they make more money building more expensive housing. Hence all the buyouts of the low income housing setasides. Perennial developer candidates like Leggett and Silverman are in a conflict of interest situation. They are taking a lot of money from people who don't want to build low income housing. Hence Leggett's and Silverman's leadership is very, very soft, except two months beforfe the election. I don't have their problem. I'll give developers a fair hearing, but not a special one. I've got three kids in their twenties who are looking for housing.

Silver Springer said...

The problem is that politicians, officals and NIMBYs are not being reasonable. I'm all for affordable housing but you have to be reasonable. It's always the "bad bad developer". What bad have they really done? All the people crying ironically live in and love their suburban sprawling tract homes built by developers. YOU ENCOURAGED IT!

You want affordable housing but you won't let them build taller. You want to stop traffic problems but will oppose infill office buildings and urban mixed use development but will encourage sprawling greenfield developments like Clarksburg and Kentlands.

How can the developer make this economically feasible with all these constraints? I'm surprised they even still build in Montgomery with all the unreasonable hoops they have to jump through. They are a business first so they are out to make money no surprise there. Isn't that the spirit of America?

No one can come up with a reasonable answer as to why building taller is so bad. I think the county is encouraging sprawl with these ridiculous height limits and abundant parking requirments. 200'ft is not enough in a place like downtown Silver Spring.

Basically you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. In affect you will hurt the economic and environmental health of the county if you keep it up.

Silver Springer said...

To get real: if that was in defense of can you defend a region that hasn't even tried anything significant yet? If Montgomery can do it surely the richest counties in the country can? Or do you enjoy your homogeneous ways?

thecourtyard said...

High-rise development is not the be-all, end-all solution for Montgomery County, however. There are a lot of communities where high-rise buildings would be completely inappropriate, and we need to find a way to bring higher density and mixed-use into those areas without overwhelming them.

And just as important as what type of development (be it high-rises in Silver Spring or townhomes in Kentlands, whatever) is the commitment to making affordable housing available in them, giving people of limited means a variety of housing choices. Neither Silverman nor Leggett's proposals allows that.

FuturePurpleRider said...

I think we have to remember that to preserve our existing supply of affordable housing, it's important to supply new market-rate housing near Metro. An important part of what's driving demand for apartments in older buildings in Silver Spring and Wheaton is the desire for a transit-accessible lifestyle these days. Some people prefer the Silver Spring ambiance; others would rather live in Bethesd or North Bethesda but find Silver Spring more affordable. If we can accelerate the redevelopment around White Flint and Twinbrook to make these areas more residential and more pedestrian-oriented, it will drain off some of the demand that is flooding into Silver Spring.

Apartment development around the Metro stations on the west side of the county is exactly what Leggett is talking about slowing down. His developments of all-affordable housing are never going to get built; meanwhile his policy of constricting housing supply (and especially of constricting the transit-oriented housing supply, because sprawl type devleopment is already in the Master Plan) will drive up prices in the existing stock of apartments in the East County.

Gaithersblog said...

Mr. Ficker should know -- and if he doesn't perhaps this is yet another reason not to vote for him -- that other than Clarksburg, all the sites he mentioned are not under County jurisdiction. King Farm is in Rockville, while Kentlands, Lakelands and Crown Farm are all in Gaithersburg (Crown Farm, of course, only just -- but development will happen within Gaithersburg). Gaithersburg of course has its own challenges, and they don't yet have a real affordable housing policy, although the City has the highest density of afforable housing in the County -- mostly as a result of having some of the oldest housing stock in the County. Tonight, Gaithersburg is considering (see my Gaithersblog post on this) redevelopment "deferral" while they further consider their affordable housing policy.

Rfustero said...

I recall, back in the late 70's and 80's- it was understood that if you were buying a house in Gaitherburg- you were lower middle class- There were very stores, but a number of bars, and clubs.

Many of them catered to what was called the "redneck" community, and occasionally the "biker type".

Places such as Roseanne Gardens and many of the townhomes/apts on West Deer Park Road were subsidized and and occupied by
single mothers and blue collar workers--

Gradually as the economy improved, Lake Forest Mall was built, the prices went up, new, more expensive homes were built and people who lived in Gaithersburg moved out to Germantown and Frederick County.

Things change, the economy changes and people move- . The biggest change in home building however has been the inclusion of fancy appliancess, and luxury amenities, that have also added to the price of homes-- the cost of labor(the unskileed) has fallen over the years, so the cost of new homes is not all labor cost.

Land has also become expensive in Montgomery County, along with wasteful and expensice non-necessities.

There is no one solution to the affordable housing- but it should be remembered that many homes that were built in the 70's and 80's were not fancy . but the owners gradually improved upon them as families grew and income grew- I

dont think anyone solution is the answer, but all ideas should be studied.

get real said...

To Silver Springer and the courtyard, I agree with most of what you say, especially about the NIMBYs. I was definitely not defending Northern Virginia's failure to put in place affordable housing mandates. I was simply saying it is unfair to blame county government for our lack of affordable housing. If county government really wanted to make housing affordable, they could ruin our school system and screw up our parks and libraries and then no one would want to live here and housing prices would go down. Thank goodness they don't do that.

Gaithersblog said...

Robert F.,

I think you have it exactly correct there. I've lived in Gaithersburg since the early 1980s, and I've had Aris Mardirossian cook me an Armenian Burger at the North Gaithersburg Beer & Wine. Gaithersburg was a rail town back at the turn of the previous century, where the farmers brought their crops to be prepared for market and put on trains. It only started to take on its current pretensions when the wave of DC bedroom housing development crashed over it starting in the 1970s, or 1960s if you want to count Montgomery Village. With so much of Gaithesburg being built out now, the pressure is on to demolish and redevelop all those parts that were built in the lower-middle class days prior to 1975 or so.

Silver Springer said...

"High-rise development is not the be-all, end-all solution for Montgomery County, however. There are a lot of communities where high-rise buildings would be completely inappropriate, and we need to find a way to bring higher density and mixed-use into those areas without overwhelming them.

And just as important as what type of development (be it high-rises in Silver Spring or townhomes in Kentlands, whatever) is the commitment to making affordable housing available in them, giving people of limited means a variety of housing choices. Neither Silverman nor Leggett's proposals allows that.

9/05/2006 2:58 PM
I’m not saying high-rise development is the end all, be all solution but I think there are certain ideas that are better than others and infill high-rises are a better answer than low density tract homes. You are encouraging sprawl with the latter. You have to look at the big picture not just the main focus of providing affordable housing. Ask yourself what the costs are if you build low density single family homes vs. High-rise mixed use developments. What are the social, environmental, and economic costs that are outside just providing affordable housing? What do you gain and what do you lose?

You give up a lot more than you gain with developments like the Kentlands and Clarksburg. The only one that seems to have done a good job is King Farm. It is the closest to a metro station, compliments the more urban Rockville, lacks the large surface parking lots of the Kentlands but more importantly it provides over 3 million sq\ft of office space. I could certainly live in King Farm and use a car far less than the other two, if at all.

Where would you work in the Kentlands if you have a higher education degree? You most certainly have to drive unless you want to risk your life running across Great Seneca to Medimmune and not everybody can work there.

I support infill development and I understand not every place is going to have high-rises but the sad part is that the county is severely limiting the places that deserve high-rise development. Why does the planning board punish a developer for building taller and not for low density environmentally damaging tract home sprawl the size of a small city? I’m not falling for the complimenting “areas without overwhelming them” excuse either. If we listened to that downtown Silver Spring would still be in a mess.

thecourtyard said...

I agree. King Farm does a much better job than the Kentlands in just about every aspect of a good mixed-use community. However, I think you're too quick to make the issue "low-density single-family homes vs. high-rises" when it's really not that simple (especially given your example of King Farm, which has neither).

And, of course, the topic of the post was Affordable Housing, meaning that . . . yes, it is more than relevant to the discussion at hand.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the county council vote to approve the transfer of Crown Farm to the City of Gaithersburg?

Silver Springer said...

The days of Greenfield development in Montgomery County are just about over. We either get rid of our fear of heights or we go develop the agricultural reserve it really is that simple. No need to make a mountain out of a molehill.

You frowned upon increasing building height to allow more affordable housing. Why?

That is the issue at hand; you can't focus on affordable housing without taking into consideration the repercussions from other variables. Low density will do more damage than high-rise density.

"New Urbanism" places like the Kentlands are so large that they defeat the purpose and are no better than a single family home subdivision next to a shopping center which is typically less than half their size. They are certainly low density with the tallest buildings less than 5 floors.

thecourtyard said...

I have a problem with Silverman's proposal to increase building heights to allow more affordable housing because of the number of affordable units it was projected to produce each year. These high-rises are going to be built in Silver Spring, Bethesda, wherever regardless, so we have to make sure that when they are they include a lot of affordable housing.

That being said, however, I don't think it's the only solution to the affordable housing crisis. We have to be more aggressive about including subsidized units in the suburban parts of the County - not just places like King Farm, but in existing neighborhoods that are opposed to any sort of increased density.

Maryam Balbed said...

Hi Dan,

Awfully nice of you to stop by Valerie Ervin's site.

Anyone who's interested in the District 5 County Council race should.

Silver Springer said...

How much is "a lot of affordable housing"? Montgomery County seems to be carrying the burden of an entire region. Perhaps a partnership can be formed between northern Va and Montgomery so that they can provide their fair share.

brentgilroy said...

You heard it here. There's about to be a huge backlash against SS redevelopment by the same people who stalled it for 20 years. Especially if Ike wins -- they'll take that as a mandate to halt growth everywhere, and particularly height/density in SS. The City Place project may start it all. There will be protests about heat-island effects, shadows, overcrowded schools (from office buildings and adult-oriented apartments, no less!), massive traffic, crime and depressed housing values (never mind that the recent surge in values is at least partly due to SS coming back; the subsequent stagnation will now be blamed on "people not wanting to live here now that SS is crowded and un-liveable." The same people who kept everything out for 20 years will start shouting down politicans and filing lawsuits. Question is --will the rest of us be ready to fight to keep the positive change coming and make this a model URBAN community?

Robin Ficker said...

Did you see in the paper today that the developers of Crown Farm have given more than $80,000 to members of the council who voted for the developers plan over objections of the Planning Board. Plus Leggett got $20,000.