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.
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.