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Montgomery County lawmakers want specifics in affordable housing plan

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

The Montgomery County Council wants to make housing more affordable for residents. The question is how and when -- not to mention, how to pay for it.

The 2012 Housing Policy will steer the county in determining which new housing projects take priority. The draft by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs says the county needs to focus on building affordable housing in high-density areas and around Metro stations as well as creating more housing for residents with disabilities. It also suggests expanding loan programs and working with the state and federal government to expand its housing options.

What the policy lacks, council members argue, are numerical benchmarks that show how much housing will increase, how it will be built and when that is going to happen.

"If we don't set [benchmarks] down, I'm very fearful that this will always be a feel-good conversation," said Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda. "We need to hold ourselves as a community accountable in some way, and I don't know how we'll get there without metrics."

For housing to be affordable, a resident should pay no more than 30 percent of his monthly income on housing. In 2011, the county's median home price was estimated to be at about $340,000, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The county is expected to gain about 163,000 workers, with affordable housing harder to find.

The trouble with stating a specific goal -- such as a certain amount of units by a certain year -- is it's hard to determine if funding will be available, DHCA Director Rick Nelson said.

"I can give you a goal, but is it realistic in today's economy?" he said. "If you put in metrics to suggest how many housing units you want, that comes with a price tag."

The policy is intended to direct goals when money comes available, he said, but council members want a more specific scope of how much affordable housing will be built.

To do that, Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, said they would have to address issues of homelessness and poverty in the county to analyze how affordable housing would be made available. Almost 1,000 residents are homeless in the county, according to state data.

"People need places to live that they can afford," she said. "I am very angry when I see that we're turning on a faucet and only letting some drops drip out and we're pretending that's good enough."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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