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Riemer, Young Dems Ask: Can Young People Afford To Live In MoCo?

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 3/27/2013, 11:20am  ET

Montgomery County Young Democrats discuss attracting younger residents to Montgomery CountyThe answer is maybe.

But many of the 2o and 30 somethings who attended a Montgomery County Young Democrats forum on the question Tuesday night in Silver Spring said millenials choose D.C. and Arlington over Montgomery because of better nightlife, walkability, transit access and access to jobs.

The discussion covered a range of issues tied to attracting more young people to Montgomery, including finding space to grow a family and, of course, Montgomery’s relative lack of nightlife activity, a topic that’s been in the news recently.

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) is working with County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on a night time economy initiative. He led the discussion.

“When we look at young people that we educate in this county, we spend, the average is $180,000. That’s what it costs us to educate a person all the way through our public schools, which is a testament to our commitment to education. But when our young people graduate from Montgomery County Public Schools, do they stay in Montgomery County or do they go to college and move to some other part of the country or some other part of the region,” Riemer asked. “The unfortunate news is that they are not staying in Montgomery County. They are moving to other parts of our region. They are moving to other parts of the county. We have to do a better job, absolutely in my opinion, at least capturing our share of young people who want to move to the Washington region.”

Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large), Planning Board commissioner Casey Anderson, County Director of Housing and Community Affairs Rick Nelson, Bob Kaufman of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, Just Up The Pike blogger Dan Reed and Maryland Juice blogger David Moon took part in the discussion.

A common response from those in attendance was that cost is not the sole factor leading millenials to pick D.C. and Arlington over downtown, transit-oriented areas such as Bethesda and Silver Spring.

“I’ll pay an extra $100, $200 in rent so I can walk here, walk there. People balance the cost on the convenience,” said one participant who explained that if rents are similar in D.C. and Silver Spring, a young person is more likely to choose D.C. because there is more to do.

One participant complained about Bethesda’s lack of options and the 1 a.m. closing time for bars. Riemer mentioned the 50-50 alcohol to food ratio requirement, indicating it could face scrutiny as part of the county’s initiative.

But many of the participants spoke to larger issues.

One mentioned the importance of attracting jobs that recent college graduates could not just obtain but could make a decent enough salary with to get out of their parents’ homes.

Many spoke about the glut of efficiency and one-room apartments and the lack of two-room and three-room apartments that some said they’d like to move into once they start families.

“One of the failures that we make, is we are planning for today and not for tomorrow,” Nelson said. “Too many efficients and one-rooms in new developments. [Developers] claim there is no market for it.”

Kaufman said some developers do want to build larger apartments, but there is little opportunity for financing them on the federal level.

Transit was a big issue. Riemer said “it is hard to live in Montgomery County without a car,” and many agreed. Action Committee for Transit President Tina Slater pressed attendees to push for funding for the Purple Line light rail that would connect Bethesda and Silver Spring.

And Floreen said the suburban nature of the county wouldn’t change without input from politically active younger people who want improvements geared toward their lifestyle.

“You need to show up,” Floreen said. “The people who want everything to stay the same, they show up.”

“They show up in force,” Anderson added.

“We need a constituency who will actually say, ‘It’s OK. Let’s move forward. Let’s move into the 21st century,’” Floreen continued. “This is where you come in.”