Council Member Wants To Increase Affordable Housing in Development Projects in Wealthy Areas

Bill would increase percentage of affordable units required where high schools have low poverty rates


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County Council at-large member Hans Riemer

Provided photo

Montgomery County Council at-large member Hans Riemer introduced a bill Tuesday to add affordable housing units in the county.

The bill would require  developers of housing projects with 20 or more units to make at least 15 percent of the homes moderately priced dwelling units (MDPUs).

The bill only would apply to a project if less than 15 percent of the students at the local high school are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals, an indicator of poverty.

The county currently requires developers to build a minimum of 12.5 percent MPDUs into their residential projects with 20 or more units.

The bill would apply to residential projects being built in the areas served by Winston Churchill, Walt Whitman, Thomas S. Wootton, Walter Johnson, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Poolesville high schools, according to Riemer.

Riemer said affordable housing is needed in those school districts, where homes are typically priced at more than a half million dollars.

“Kids make more progress in their education living in a community that is higher income than kids in lower-income communities no matter what educational programs you try to bring to the schools,” Riemer said.

He noted that the council already required 15 percent MPDUs for new projects proposed in areas covered by the recently revised Westbard and Downtown Bethesda master plans.

He described the MPDU program as the “most effective achievement gap program.”

The MPDU program enables residents who qualify for the program based on their income to rent or buy apartments or houses at a price lower than other units in the new development.

Riemer said he’s not sure if the council would support the change. Council member Sidney Katz signed on as a co-sponsor Tuesday.

Riemer noted that if a change in a high school cluster’s population caused the numbers of students who receive free and reduced-price meals to surpass 15 percent, developers building there would no longer be required to meet the higher percentage of MPDUs.

Council member George Leventhal said during Tuesday’s council meeting that basing the policy on the free and reduced-price meals rate, which can change annually, might affect developers trying to obtain financing for projects that take years to complete.

Riemer said the meals rate in the high schools is “not likely to change significantly year to year.”

Council member Nancy Floreen introduced a bill at the end of October to require developers of fewer than 20 homes to contribute to the county’s Housing Initiative Fund. The fund provides money for affordable housing projects in the county.

She said the contributions might be based on the value of the homes built in the development, but hasn’t yet settled on a formula. The council will work through those details as it takes up the legislation in committee sessions, she said.

She said she introduced the bill to make sure developers of smaller projects are paying their fair share for affordable housing.

“There’s a tremendous need and most of the new homes being constructed are not inexpensive,” Floreen said.

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