Wednesday, April 17, 2019

did silver spring build enough housing to stay affordable? sort of.

In 2013, I looked at rents in Silver Spring to see if building tons of new homes could help keep our community affordable. Five years and about 1,700 new apartments later, did it work? Sort of. Rents in many downtown buildings are the same or lower than they were in 2013, but it hasn't been enough to keep prices from spiking elsewhere.

I like how the buildings frame the sky this morning (clouds, contrails).
Apartment and condo buildings in downtown Silver Spring. All images by the author.
Housing economists say that a crucial way to lower housing costs is through filtering. Today’s expensive “luxury” homes will become tomorrow’s affordable homes, as newer, fancier homes are built and people who can pay more seek them out while people with more modest incomes move into older homes. We've seen this here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, where 1950s-era "luxury" apartments have essentially become affordable housing.

But if new homes aren’t being built to replace the older ones, the opposite happens, and owners upgrade their properties and make them more expensive to attract higher-income occupants. Or, as housing researcher Sydney Bennet told Bisnow, “If there aren’t enough cheaper options, it becomes a chain, with a middle-class person living in an apartment a lower-income person might have occupied, and so on.”

Does this actually happen in real life? To find out, last summer I looked at apartments in downtown Silver Spring, which has experienced two big building booms in the 1950s and 1960s, and again during the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, I noticed a strong relationship between the age of a building and its rent: The older a building, the lower the rent.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

before the purple line, silver spring will get this train-chameleon mural

CORRECTION: this story has been updated to reflect the fact that this mural depicts a chameleon, not an iguana; I'm gonna go review my lizard flash cards now

The Purple Line won't open for a few years, but it'll arrive a little sooner in Silver Spring in the form of a new mural that turns the train into...a chameleon. Work on the mural started last week on a blank wall the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Bonifant Street, where Purple Line trains will run once the light rail opens in 2023.

The mural, currently in progress, depicts a train-chameleon hybrid. Photo by the author.

The Silver Spring Urban District, which manages everything from street sweeping to community events in the downtown, commissioned the mural with the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment District. It held a poll last year for residents to choose from a few different designs, and this train-iguana hybrid won. (Full disclosure: I voted for it.)

The mural fills a block-long blank wall next to the future Purple Line. Photo by the author.

It's an important piece of public art for an intersection that's changed a lot. There used to be another building at the corner, but it was demolished in the 1970s to widen Bonifant Street, revealing the blank wall. In recent years, this stretch of Georgia Avenue has become the heart of Silver Spring nightlife. The Quarry House Tavern, which opened in the 1930s, sits across Georgia, and new venues like Society, Urban Butcher, and Astro Lab have opened nearby. Washington Property Company, which is building a new, 20-story apartment building across Bonifant Street, paid for the mural.

Here's what the mural will look like when it's done. Image from the Silver Spring Urban District.
However, the push for a mural started several years ago from community members. In 2014, local architects Atul Sharma and Mark Schrieber gave a presentation at PechaKucha Night Silver Spring about how underused public spaces could become opportunities for art or community gatherings. One of their proposals was painting a mural on the blank wall. Around the same time, mysterious posters appeared around the then-unfinished Silver Spring Transit Center calling for it to become recreational space.

When it's built, each Purple Line station will also have public artwork on display, but it's cool to see community-led artwork joining it. Hopefully, the train-chameleon will become a well-loved landmark for future riders.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

here are seven ways montgomery county is changing

Since 1990, Montgomery County has fewer families, more renters, and more working professionals. And while some parts of the county are experiencing major demographic and physical changes, others haven't changed much at all. Those are some of the findings from county planners studying how the county is changing.

I love summertime in #silverspring because we get so many awesome street musicians—no schedule, no county program—and they can draw a crowd with a cover of "she will be loved." #dtss #busking #maroon5 #igdc
Crowds watch a street performer in downtown Silver Spring. Image by the author.

More than 50 years ago, Montgomery County created a grand vision for how it would grow, called On Wedges and Corridors. It laid out the basic structure of Montgomery County, with development clustering around the Red Line and I-270, a big network of parks and open spaces, and a large agricultural reserve beyond that. Many of those ideas from that 1960s plan were carried out, and seem prescient now.

However, our county looks very different than it did back then, and this year the Montgomery County Planning Department is working on an update for that plan to carry us into the next 50 years. But first, planners have been researching how the county has changed to understand how our needs have changed. Here are seven things they found:


Friday, January 18, 2019

why is marc elrich resistant to building homes for millennials?

One-fifth of Montgomery County’s residents are Millennials, or adults between 23 and 38, and the county has been working to attract and retain them so they’ll build lives here. But new County Executive Marc Elrich recently suggested that he’s not that interested in building homes for them.

Elrich, who was elected in November, made the comment Wednesday night at a town hall in Silver Spring responding to a resident who asked what the county would do to address rising rents. Montgomery Community Media broadcasted the event on Facebook Live, and the exchange starts at 1:40:30. You can also see a transcript here.


“I am going to be dead set opposed to anybody who proposes knocking down existing affordable housing to build housing for Millennials, people making $60,000 or $80,000, and I’ve got people who can’t afford the houses they’ve got now,” he told the resident.

When the resident added it might be better for her to buy a house, he replied, “Good luck buying a house at that price!”