- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

Montgomery County since 1974 has aimed for 12 percent to 15 percent of its new housing to be affordable units for middle-income earners.

But about 8 percent of the county’s new home construction since 2000 has been affordable housing, despite laws designed to meet that goal.

“There’s a serious need for affordable housing in Montgomery County that is not being met,” said Russ Louch, co-chairman of Action in Montgomery, a coalition of county religious leaders.

County officials disagree, saying they have fulfilled their obligations under the law and providing statistics to support their assertion.

“In all of the developments over the last 10 years that have required [affordable housing units], they have been built,” said Elizabeth B. Davison, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA).

According to statistics provided by county planners, about 20,057 new homes were completed from 2000 to last year.

During that period, 1,538 affordable units were built, according to DHCA analysis.

County laws that require affordable housing in 12 percent to 15 percent of new developments have applied only to about 62 percent of new construction, however. The laws do not apply to new developments with fewer than 20 homes.

“There are a lot of one- or two-unit developments,” Ms. Davison said.

But citizens groups say the bottom line is there is not enough affordable housing, and that bad government shares the blame with bad law.

“There have been very little teeth in the affordable housing laws,” said Drew Powell of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery (NBM), a government watchdog group.

Until September, county officials had issued building permits for more than a decade without requiring builders to build affordable housing, as county law directs.

DHCA also has allowed builders to buy their way out of affordable housing requirements. Buyouts are lawful, but the proceeds must go toward producing “significantly more” affordable housing in the same “general area” of the county.

Ms. Davison said that since 2000, DHCA has allowed buyouts of 176 affordable housing units. Mr. Powell’s group disputes Ms. Davison’s figures. NBM says Ms. Davison’s office has allowed 230 buyouts since 2000, at $21,000 or less a unit.

In addition, the county has allowed builders in the last few years to delay building affordable housing until the project ends to avoid the law’s requirement to disperse the units throughout a subdivision.

Ms. Davison and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat running for governor, say no affordable housing has been lost.

Affordable housing in the county differs from low-income housing in that affordable housing is provided through moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs), which are administered by DHCA.

MPDUs are sold to “renters and first-time home buyers with incomes ranging from $20,000 to $68,000 for families of five or more people,” according to the DHCA Web site. The prices range from $120,000 for a two-bedroom condominium to about $180,000 for a three-bedroom detached house.

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