Montgomery Co.’s 2020 goal: Make affordable housing more attainable

In 2020, Montgomery County, Maryland, wants to see less stress on residents trying to afford keeping a roof over their heads.

In a video detailing his goals for the year, County Executive Marc Elrich said the hope is to be able to expand the amount of money the county has available for affordable housing.

Currently, the county’s rental assistance programs are limited. If someone is in a Health Services Center program, and they get a voucher toward their rent, it’s yearlong assistance. But the local rental programs in Montgomery County only offer a few months of help.

“We have lots of people who struggle with affordable housing,” Elrich said. “At the very bottom we’ve got about 20,000 households that earn about $30,000 a year who can only afford about $800 a month in rent. Those people are paying 60% of their incomes, which means they’re spending right now between $1,500 and $1,600 a month. This is our greatest current challenge is those folks are really severely rent burdened.”

He said even those moving into a slightly higher income bracket are still paying 40% to 50% of their income on rent in Montgomery County.

The solution? More assistance. The county will look at opportunities to help nonprofits purchase buildings that can be turned into affordable housing.

“I’ve asked that we start putting an emphasis on assisting buying buildings, but also looking to make it possible for tenants ultimately to own the buildings,” said Elrich.

He said the effects of poverty fall largely on minority communities, who have not been able to enter homeownership at a rate equal to their white counterparts.

“If you only rent, you don’t build any capital,” Elrich said, adding that ownership allows people to do such things as take out home loans or second mortgages for goals such as their kids’ education. “You don’t accumulate much in savings if you’re not building any equity,” he said.

So he wants the county to look ways to help more people buy apartments, turn them into condominiums, and offer ownership opportunities to a part of the population that hasn’t had those opportunities before.

A final burden to affordable housing in Montgomery County is the cost of building.

“One of the biggest impediments is, it’s just too darn expensive to build,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about a single-family house or you’re talking about apartments in high-rise buildings — the cost of building a high-rise just works against getting any affordable units out of it.”

Because of the high construction costs, when housing is built, they only tend to see 12% to 15% of the units fall into affordable ranges, and those are not really affordable to the very low-income brackets. They are more geared toward those making $55,000 to $80,000 per year.

He said the change will come about slowly but hopes it will make a big difference in the long run.

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