Leaders in Montgomery County’s efforts to provide affordable housing met Monday with staff members of the county’s planning department to dispel some myths about what the new zoning code might mean for their efforts.
A lot of misinformation and mischaracterization has circulated about the changes, said Barbara Goldberg Goldman, co-chairwoman of the Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County Maryland, which organized the event. The nonprofit works on issues such as workforce housing, mixed-use and mixed-income developments, inclusionary zoning, rental housing and home ownership.
County planners recently rewrote the zoning code to modernize antiquated and redundant zoning regulations. The County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee’s draft of the zoning code text and map is to be released Friday.
On Nov. 12 and 14, the full council will hold public hearings to get feedback. In December, the committee will meet to consider the public hearing testimony and finalize the draft.
“We thought the best approach would be bring together all of us who are involved and invested in this issue,” Goldberg Goldman said. “Let’s get the facts and the real deal from the people who are most responsible for crafting the zoning rewrite.”
Far from hurting the number of new affordable housing units being developed, the new code will help promote the building of moderately priced dwelling units, said Rose Krasnow, the county’s interim planning director.
The moderately priced housing program, started in 1974, lets developers increase housing density in return for building below-market-rate units. Under the current code, projects with 20 or more units must designate 12.5 percent to 15 percent of new units as affordable. In exchange, developers can build up to 22 percent more than the density permitted in the original zoning.
Developers can get even greater density if they add extra units, said Joshua Sloan, a planning department staffer. However, this has not created a bevy of new affordable units, he said.
Since 2005, only 119 units, out of the thousands built, have been “bonus,” according to county records.
“We’re not getting a large amount,” Sloan said.
However, under the proposed code, a developer would be able to add more moderately priced units than the required 12.5 percent and not have those additional units counted against the project’s density.
For some advocates in the affordable housing world, that still would not spur developers to build enough lower-cost units to meet demand.
“A growing number of people in the affordable housing world are asking for 15 percent to be a given,” said Robert Goldman of Montgomery Housing Partnership, a nonprofit housing developer that acquires, rehabilitates, builds and manages quality affordable rental housing in the county. “What could get developers to 15 percent?”
Krasnow cautioned that it was a balancing act and that putting too many demands on developers could stymie new growth.
“It’s very expensive for them to do that,” Krasnow said. “We could have a huge backlash.”
Richard Nelson, the director of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the base of 12.5 percent makes Montgomery County one of the most, if not the most, progressive jurisdictions in the nation.