Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the once and future white oak: part one

New 3rd District Police Station, White Oak
White Oak residents are still fuming over plans to build mixed-income housing next to the new Third District police station above) on Milestone Drive. A pair of Gazette stories say County officials were met with "heavy opposition" at a meeting last month to discuss the project which "dissolved into shouted questions" from the roughly 125 people attending. At another presentation on the plan earlier this summer, I heard residents say affordable housing creates "open-air drug markets" and that a "better quality of people" should live in White Oak.

Their frustration has merit, but these kind of statements only make the community look bad. Over the next three days, we'll look at affordable housing, what the County's proposing in White Oak, and why opposing this project is the wrong way to improve East County. Stay tuned for parts TWO and THREE.

1) Not all affordable housing is the same.

Last summer, Maryland Politics Watch did a five-part series on affordable housing in Montgomery County, suggesting that stiff resistance to it in more affluent areas have resulted in a concentration of subsidized units elsewhere. As a result, eleven percent of the county's Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) are located in East County, mostly in the White Oak and Briggs Chaney areas. (That's still not much compared to Germantown, an area with roughly the same amount of people living here but home to a quarter of the MPDUs.)

Despite how prevalent affordable housing may be in East County, few seem to understand what or where it is. The majority of the homes in White Oak and Briggs Chaney are not subsidized at all. Those that are may have been built under the MPDU program, which requires a portion of new developments to include affordable housing; are owned or managed by the County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs or the entirely separate Housing Opportunities Commission; or are regular homes rented using federal Section 8 vouchers.

Apartments Of White Oak
Most apartments in White Oak, shown above, are not government-subsidized.

Some residents at the meeting accused DHCA of building "Section 8 housing" or conflated the White Oak proposal with the 1960's-era apartments behind the 4th District police station in Glenmont, which is a privately-built complex that pre-dates the MPDU law.

"When folks say 'affordable housing,' people see the stuff they saw on TV and the worst we had of public housing," said Rick Nelson, head of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, at the meeting in June.

Yes, East County has a chip on its shoulder when it comes to affordable housing. As a woman at the presentation in June lamented, "our lives are defined by the fact that White Oak is White Oak," referring to the concentration of apartments there. But we're selling ourselves short with talk like this. If done right, the project in White Oak could be like nothing we've seen before in East County. And besides, is trying to kill affordable housing really the best way to improve White Oak? We'll look at that more later this week.


Thomas Hardman said...

This whole discussion is effectively moot. Aspen Hill, for example, is chock full of both foreclosed houses and rental houses. There are two homes for rent -- nice houses on one of the better blocks in the neighborhood 1250 square feet or so of habitable space -- within a half block of me, and most of the foreclosed homes along Aspen Hill Road (12 of them, I think, in only 2 miles drive) are still unoccupied.

Even if occupied to the legal limit of 7 unrelated adults, that's still over 150 people who could find housing in a generally walkable neighborhood very well served by bus and with many nearby medical and dental practices and two different hospitals in opposite directions on the bus lines.

If the houses were rented for 1750.00/month, with 7 people, that would be $250.00 month per person. Now that's affordable, and it's in an established neighborhood.

If you're getting a little tired of me pointing out that there is no need whatsoever to build any new housing, maybe people should stop suggesting that there's a shortage of affordable housing.

Heck, a 1-bedroom apartment is how much? $1350 a month? For another $400 you can have 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a basement, and a yard. But that won't employ construction workers, will it? And that won't let developers make money to contribute to campaigns, eh?

So in this era of gross oversupply of commercial real-estate and foreclosed-and-affordable houses, it makes sense to build new high-density mixed-income "affordable" rental properties (or condos) on an overly congested stretch that has absolutely no rail transit and no likelihood of any within the next 15 years?

Oh yeah, makes a lot of sense. NOT!

Karen said...

I live in the apartments along Longwood drive in White Oak. I attended one of the sessions but I didn't stay long. It was too unpleasant to hear the nasty comments directed at renters. It's depressing to think that the seemingly nice people I meet at the library or the park think I'm trash and don't want me living near them. (I rent because I move a lot for my job, and the White Oak area is convenient to my work. I'm 40 and well past the roommate stage, so I don't want to rent a house with 6 other people. I prefer having privacy.)

However, I have mixed feelings about the new housing. There are a lot of apartments along Lockwood, and they usually have vacancies. I'm not sure the demand is there, especially since there is no easy access to rail. On the other hand, a mixed income development might be a nice option. There isn't a lot available for a renter other than the low-end apartments on Lockwood, especially if you don't want noisy roommates. I know a lot of people moving into the White Oak FDA site would be interested.