Monday, February 6, 2012

seriously, MoCo really needs young people to stick around

MoCo planning director Rollin Stanley recently posted this video with some findings his staff made in the 2010 Census. To be honest, it doesn't look good for Montgomery County: closing businesses, high housing prices, and an aging population. Rather than rattle off a bunch of statistics, however, I'd rather you just watch them set to techno music:

Do You Know MoCo v3 - 2012 from M-NCPPC on Vimeo.

What I found most striking was the drop in the county's young adult population. According to the Planning Department, Montgomery County has 15% fewer adults between the ages of 15 and 24 than we did in 2000. There are 17% fewer 25-to-34 year olds, along with 20% fewer 35-to-44 year olds. The first two age groups belong to the Millennials (or Echo Boomers or Generation Y, whichever you prefer). As I've said before, we're now the largest generation in American history, due to being the kids of the Baby Boomers, America's previous largest generation. Yet their ranks in MoCo have swelled over the past 10 years, while my cohort has shrunk.

Why is this?

Some of my readers didn't agree with my post last June about my newlywed friends who grew up in Montgomery County then moved elsewhere in the region. A lot of people didn't like my post last week about the difficulty of finding housing in MoCo for Millennials, which now has over 200 comments on Greater Greater Washington. But these things are connected. Montgomery County is an expensive place to live, and some of us (like my friends) have found that neighboring communities have more jobs, cheaper housing, and more stuff to do.

This is a problem. Montgomery County thrived because of the Baby Boomers, who found life so good here that they never left. (A few of them, it seems, like it a little too much.) But if the 30% of the county's population is over 65, as the Planning Department estimates will happen by 2030, we're not going to be able to manage. If we want the county to continue prospering, we have to draw young people.

"What" draws young people is pretty simple: Jobs, reasonably priced housing, short commutes, proximity to shopping and entertainment, and increasingly, neighborhoods where you can walk/bike/take transit instead of driving. The "how" is more challenging. But we should start going after those solutions now rather than waiting until it's too late.


Cortney Riese said...

I moved to downtown Silver Spring 11 yrs ago from across the country. A friend, who lived in a neighborhood nearby, said it was up and coming. The rent was affordable and huge, although the building wasn't fancy AT ALL. Living there for 6 yrs I fell in love with Silver Spring and MoCo, but the rent went up and up and up. I was lucky to have moved in when I did. Now I couldn't and wouldn't pay the rent for that apartment. And had I not lived there initially though, I would have never purchased a home with my husband in South Four Corners. My husband works in VA and I work in DC, while our home is metro and beltway accessible, there were lots of locations that would have shortened our commutes. But we both love Silver Spring and choose it. As you have said over and over, had I not lived in that apartment, we would not be where we are at now. MoCo needs to make areas that are affordable and desirable to young people if they want them stay and grow in the community. No question.

M Reese said...

My wife and I are both MCPS teachers, just under 30, and our family income is just a hair above the median income for the county.
However we cannot afford any house that is either nice, or near anything reasonably walkable. I am happy where I live, but it took a lot of looking to find my house.

The point is despite making more money than 50% of the county we had to choose an older home that is not near anything interesting. I can see why young folks would want to move somewhere else since all the “hip” places are well out of their price range.

It’s a shame because we always talk about these building more walk able neighborhoods, but there priced so high that most of the counties residents could never afford to live there.

jag2923 said...

Affordability seems only tangentially related to the issue. Both within Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring (and throughout DC and NoVa) we see extremely low vacancy rates despite high costs. The real problem is that MoCo only offers a couple of walkable, urban areas that attract Millennials. I'm completely confident that the thousands of new units in DTSS will be filled quickly, ditto for Bethesda, "NoBe", and any other areas the county decides to properly and effectively zone and invest in.

The problem (both with the affordability issue and the shrinking Millennial issue) is that MoCo needs to add more urban-esque areas and units. Millennials want to live in MoCo, they just want to live in DTSS or DTSS-like places and not the middle of nowhere. The county council needs to do more to effect change quickly and decisively otherwise NoVa's going to suck up all the low-hanging, disposable, Millennial income and MoCo will be stuck with only retired boomers on a fixed incoming.

Woody Brosnan said...

Having watched Rollin's video, I'm much more concerned with how we are going to provide services and housing for the increasing numbers of Montgomery County residents who live below the poverty line, regardless of age. There's not much that Montgomery County can do about the economy or the aging of the population. It's a little contradictory to argue that we're not providing places where young people want to live and at the same time argue that rents are too high. High rents are caused by demand. There is more demand for housing, both for purchase and rent, near metro stops. But I would agree with the general point that many people have not woken up to the demographic changes in Montgomery County.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Montgomery County has a jobs problem. This is not a problem that is going to get solved by the County Council enacting more restrictive land use regulations.

Nor is more pro-transit rhetoric going to solve it.

Nor is building more apartments and other "affordable" housing in the Fairland and White Oak Master Plan areas going to solve it.

Nor is saying that Montgomery County "needs to be more like Arlington County, Va." going to solve it.

Patrick said...

This is a several pronged issue:

The issue of high rents and low vacancy rates is due to a supply issue. The county simply doesn't have enough supply of rental units by metro stops. If this issue doesn't resolve itself soon, people will continue to live elsewhere where there is more supply. DTSS can't solve this alone. The other stops north of DTSS need more urbanism that attracts young people. Also, Takoma Park needs to start allowing more development.

Another big issue is the lack of units beyond apartments/condos and SFHs. There are very few townhouses in Montgomery County, and the ones that are available are very expensive. Again this is a supply issue. For people who like walkability, a townhouse is often the next logical step once one has kids. There simply aren't enough of this housing type in Montgomery County.

Jobs is another issue. While Montgomery County does have some job centers, we pale in comparison to NoVa and DC. The areas of Montgomery County with a lot of jobs -- I-270 corridor -- aren't exactly places that young people want to live or work. I was recently looking for a new job and really didn't consider anything over there. Just as Millennials want to live some place walkable, we also want to work some place walkable as well. I really like the Dupont Circle location of my new job.

Outside of DTSS and Bethesda, there aren't many places I'd want to work in Montgomery County. People also like to live relatively close to where they work, and if the jobs are elsewhere, people are more likely to live elsewhere.

The proposed EYA townhouse development is the perfect example of the issues in Montgomery County. To placate a handful of older residents, who receive more from the county than they put in by the nature of living in SFHs, the county demanded that EYA scale back their proposed DTSS townhouse development. There is no guarantee that the development will even go through, but if it does, we'll have less supply because of a handful of people. The exact people that will be over running the county's services in a few years.

Decisions like these made today will have a lasting impact on the county. I like DTSS and own a condo. I hope to live here a long time, but if because of poor decisions by county politicians and planners (and the outdated desires of some older residents), I'll leave for another jurisdiction. And I won't be alone.

Woody Brosnan said...

The EYA development isn't going to solve any affordable housing crisis whether it's 76 units or 60 units. Get real! Cowunty officials say there are more than 5,000 apartment or condo units either under construction, approved or in the planning stages for downtown Silver Spring. Why does everybody who comments in this column pick on the Silver Spring neighborhoods, whose residents fought for the walkable downtown we enjoy today? What about Takoma Park, which opposes any development near its metro stop?

Dan Reed said...


As I'm sure you know, new housing developments in MoCo are required to set aside 1/8 of their units for low-income households. That means that EYA would've originally built 9 "affordable" homes, but thanks to the "Leave the Zone Alone" folks, they only have to build 7 now. That is actually a loss in affordable housing.

(One could argue that subsidized housing requirements force builders to raise the cost of other units, making them less affordable, but that's a topic for another day.)

I don't think there's anyone here who begrudges the Silver Spring residents who helped create the great downtown we have today. That said, we're far from being finished, and as demographic trends suggest there's a demand to live in places like Silver Spring, we should act accordingly.

I want Silver Spring to have great shops and restaurants, safe, walkable (and bikeable) streets, convenient public transit, reasonably-priced housing, and to be a safe place to live for residents of all ages. These are things that benefit everyone, not just my generation, and they should be the top priorities for everyone in this community.

Woody, I welcome any constructive solutions that you have for any or all of these issues. If you have some, I'd be happy to hear them. Otherwise, I think you're wasting your time here.

Robert said...

Patrick said " ... residents, who receive more from the county than they put in by the nature of living in SFHs . . . ."

I'd like to see some evidence that residents of single family homes receive more from the county they they pay for. Generally single family home residents pay higher taxes per unit because of higher tax assessments per unit on single family homes. In addition, because they tend to have higher incomes, too, they pay more county income taxes per unit as well.

Dan Reed said...

A multi-family building will generate far more in property taxes than a single-family house on the same piece of land. But it's the occupants of the single-family house who are more likely to have children, meaning they'll need public schools. Not to mention that running roads/sewers/pipes/gas/power lines/etc. to detached houses spaced far apart costs more than it does to service a single building.

So, yeah, people living in single-family homes get more than they pay for in taxes, in the same way that people of working age support retirees through social security. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, provided you have enough "people of working age" (or "apartment buildings") to offset the cost.

Patrick said...


My info comes from a presentation that Rollin Stanley gave recently on county development and finances. I'll try to see if I can get a hold of the chart that he showed. It's eye opening.

Yes, a SFH may pay more taxes per unit, but it pays very little per acre. It's much cheaper to run gas, water, roads, electricity, etc. to an acre with 100 units than it is to an acre with one house.

Patrick said...


Takoma Park residents should be ashamed of themselves. Their lack of development is bad for the county and the environment. Takoma Park is a supposed progressive bastion, but blocking dense, walkable contrsuction is anything but progressive. Of course, blocking development wouldn't be very conservative either. But it certainly is selfish and hypocritical.

I don't harp more on Takoma Park because I don't live there, and I have no interest in living there. But if the WMATA ever had budget issues and needed to close a few stops, I'd say that Takoma should be at the top of that list. Having a metro stop is pretty much a social pact that you'll allow some dense development buy it. That stop should be serving a lot more people than it is.

DaveS said...

I want Silver Spring to have great shops and restaurants, safe, walkable (and bikeable) streets, convenient public transit, reasonably-priced housing, and to be a safe place to live for residents of all ages. These are things that benefit everyone, not just my generation, and they should be the top priorities for everyone in this community. -- Dan Reed

I agree 100% and I am not a Millennial. I live in Glenmont and hope to see a walkable urban center start developing here very soon.

I have commuted by Metro off and on and have noticed that there is a lot of new commuters (mostly Millennial) getting on/off at Green Line stations between Georgia Ave and Mt. Vernon stations. Is it that much easier to build new apartments in DC than in down town Silver Spring?

Dan Reed said...


It's not that it's so much easier to build apartments in DC (though a number of new buildings have sprouted up along the Green Line) as there's already an ample stock of existing apartments, rowhouses chopped up into apartments, and rowhouses used as group houses/single-family dwellings that's turning over and being occupied by new residents. You could call it gentrification, I guess.

Woody Brosnan said...

woody brosnan wrote,

I can think of many far more important issues than whether EYA gets 7 or 9 affordable housing units in its development. One is that we need to make it possible for homeowners to add an accessory apartment without having to go through the special exception process. (I opposed the Civic Federation's position on this issue.) Another is to move forward with the Wheaton and Kensington sector plans. And we need to make sure developers are moving forward with the projects for which they received zoning approval. And of course, the Purple Line and BRT would make many more places available for transit-oriented development. For instance, a dozen neighborhood federations -- the homeowners you're always criticizing -- have joined to oppose the state's plan to put a large rail maintenance yard for the Purple Line on Brookville Road. This yard would make further multi-family housing development in the Lyttonsville neighborhood impossible. It is a much bigger issue than EYA's little project.

Dan Reed said...


I'm glad we agree on some things, namely making it easier for homeowners to build accessory apartments, but I think if you go back in the six years I've been writing this blog, you'll find I'm open to and often supportive of our community organizations, though we have disagreements. I'm not sure how you got it in your head that I'm "always criticizing" them.

Dan Reed said...

BTW, you should let the "Leave the Zone Alone" folks know how inconsequential EYA's proposed development was, because we could've done without the big stink they put up about it.

Smiley said...

MoCo needs more JOBS. The housing is mediocre for the price. Had it not been for my job located in Bethesda, and my NOT wanting to fight NoVA traffic to get there daily, I would have moved to NoVA and just sucked it up and paid for a 1 bedroom condo. I am an X-er and I could barely afford my place--a foreclosure, no less--in the Silver Spring area. If the commute/transportation weren't an issue, I would have moved to HoCo or NoVA. And I didn't--and still don't--want to live in Gaithersburg, Germantown, Clarksburg, or Olney. Couldn't afford Bethesda, Potomac, or the "Chevy Chases." Didn't like what I saw in Rockville for the money. And I didn't want to buy in Burtonsville/White Oak/Briggs Chaney area or in PG due to the foreclosure issues in those areas, and lack of the type of housing stock I was looking for. And, I make GS-15 pay. MoCo is full of Baby Boomers and Silent Generation folks with money, and that inflates the prices. To me, MoCo is full of either haves and have-nots; not too many folks in the middle. MoCo needs to watch its back; I know many people, professionals who are my age, who are looking across the river or to HoCo, and who are not thinking about returning.

Craig said...

The two-income professional income households inflate real estate prices across the board.

Husband and wife are a doctor and lawyer respectively.

Husband and wife are an architect and tenured university professor respectively.

Husband and wife are a senior corporate executive and an executive GS level federal government director respectively.

You see where I am headed with this. You have married couples where each person makes a six-figure level salary and they are living in larger numbers in lower Montgomery County. I would speculate that the annual household income averages between $200,000-$300,000 in lower Montgomery County. This is an extraordinary range considering that the average American household income is under $50,000 per year. Montgomery County is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire nation.

Sure, MoCo could zone a few more high-density condo and rental developments. Supply is a real issue here, for sure. It would help to have more white-collar jobs in MoCo so the demand would increase the housing stock too.

But if you think the Rent is Too Damn High, blame the high number of number of married couples with JDs, MBAs, MDs, PhDs, MSs who chose Montgomery County as their home. They make the cost of living prohibitively expensive for everyone else from Silver Spring to Rockville.