Montgomery Co. executive candidates debate housing affordability, renter protection

The candidates for Montgomery County, Maryland, executive took on housing and affordability issues during a debate Wednesday hosted by the Montgomery County Renters Alliance.

The four candidates are current County Executive Marc Elrich, businessman David Blair and Council members Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer.

Elrich said that fighting for affordable housing has been a top priority for him since he moved to Takoma Park in the 1980s.

He pointed to his record of advocating for tenant rights and rent stabilization in the years since.

“I’ve been at this a long time. I’m deeply committed to this, and I know the difference between make-believe and real,” Elrich said.

Hucker said his record of supporting tenants and keeping them safe is unmatched.

“Just in the last two years, I have passed four new laws to protect tenants — one to allow tenants to break their lease without penalty if they have mold or vermin; another law to require window guards in our buildings to protect young children from window falls because we’ve lost too many children in Montgomery County,” Hucker said.

Hucker said the 300,000 renters in the county deserve the same attention and care from the executive office as homeowners get.

The candidates also spoke about the tens of thousands of new residents who are expected to move into the county in the coming years and the pressing issue of where to house them.

Riemer said Elrich is blocking new housing efforts and has made new development “a dirty word.”

Riemer said he has proven his support for tenants’ rights during his time on the council, but the growing housing shortage is creating a bigger problem.

“Housing shortages lead to homelessness. It makes renting houses harder. It squeezes all of the affordable housing out of a community. We have to push back against that by supporting new housing,” Riemer said.

Elrich was attacked for supporting moratoriums on development in certain parts of the county, to which he countered that the council irresponsibly voted last year to overturn the moratorium system without increasing taxes to pay for necessary infrastructure and build new schools to support the development.

Blair touted his leadership experience as a successful businessman and said he supported affordable new housing projects, including along the Purple Line, but said it didn’t address the root of the problem.

Blair said the solution to the county’s housing crisis is creating job growth because developers don’t want to build unless they know there are workers with good jobs who can move into their buildings.

“When we asked them why they’re not building, the answer is simple: the county’s poor record on job growth. The people who build housing recognize that people want to live near their jobs,” Blair said.

The primary is scheduled for June 28. The general election is in November. All four candidates are Democrats. There are no Republicans running yet. The deadline to file to run is Feb. 22.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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