|An accessory apartment over a garage in Kentlands.|
Last night, Montgomery County residents spoke out on a proposal that would make it easier for homeowners to add "accessory apartments" to their homes. I've written before that this would help homeowners and renters alike find housing they could afford. I live-tweeted the hearing along with the Action Committee for Transit and WeAreMoCo, Below are a selection of our tweets (and reactions) below, followed by my testimony:
My name is Dan Reed. I’m twenty-four, I recently earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and I live with my parents in Silver Spring. I’d like to testify in support of ZTA 12-11, Accessory Apartments.
When this proposal came before the Planning Board a few months ago, some said accessory apartments would “devastate” single-family neighborhoods and “lead to middle class flight.” And they’re right. If we ignore our housing needs to appease folks who want to pretend that all households here still look like Leave It To Beaver, our middle class won’t be able to afford to live here.
Montgomery County is growing, it’s a regional job center, but the median home value is nearly $500,000. Accessory apartments can bring homeowners extra income to help cover the mortgage and give renters a wider choice of housing options at prices they can afford. As homes get bigger while households get smaller, they allow us to house new residents almost invisibly. A childless couple in a four-bedroom house who carves out an apartment for an unrelated tenant isn’t “changing” a neighborhood – it’s bringing it back to the occupancy it was built for.
Given, there are legitimate concerns about illegal accessory units, which can be dangerous for tenants, blight on neighborhoods, and a burden for county service providers. But the current system forces homeowners to defend their financial or household situation to often-hostile neighbors. If I were a homeowner living next to people who were convinced that my basement apartment would turn our neighborhood into a ghetto, I’d take the illegal route too.
The solution isn’t to make it harder to add accessory units, but to create a streamlined approval process that incentivizes doing the right thing – building units that are safe, livable and attractive – through clear design guidelines, examples of which can be found in cities like Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. I’d even make it easier to build these units in or near transit stations like at Silver Spring or even Chevy Chase, where housing is already in demand. Accessory apartments in these places, as opposed to elsewhere, could allow tenants to drive less or not have a car at all, reducing their impact on traffic.
I honestly wonder what “devastation” opponents of this bill are expecting. I can’t vouch for all future tenants, but I bet many will look like me: twenty-four years old, with a degree and a career, with plenty of good references, who doesn’t throw wild parties and keeps a tidy home. So, for those of you who oppose this bill, I ask you: Wouldn’t you want me living in your neighborhood?
I urge the Council to pass ZTA 12-11. It’s time we give homeowners and renters alike the freedom to live where they want and within their means.