Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Housing Policy in Real Life

The best thing about having this position is that we have an actual opportunity to follow through on policy, and in that regard, I want to highlight some parts of the County’s housing policy and what it means when the rubber meets the road.

According to our official policy, a safe, decent and affordable home is the cornerstone for a full, normal life. A neighborhood is the basic unit of community in which a family can grow and flourish. The vision for Montgomery County is for all of its residents to have decent housing in sound neighborhoods.

The Housing Policy of Montgomery County reflects our commitment to certain principles, identifying who we are and what we stand for as a community. These principles mandate that the County strive to maintain and enhance the quality of life of its citizens by developing a housing strategy to address housing needs in all segments of the population. The County also must provide funding and programs when necessary to supplement state and federal programs.
This Council has made it a priority to consider our housing needs on all county-owned land since 2002. We also require affordable housing in all major development, and several years ago we added a requirement for workforce housing. Our master plans identify the need for affordable and special needs housing in addition to other priorities, such as green space and parkland.
As I understand it, there are at least 150 families with children who are currently homeless in this county, whom we have a responsibility to help. Between 2005 and 2006, more than 280 families and 1,300 individuals entered the homeless system. At the present time, we have 21 families in motels (23 adults and 53 children). Over 500 formerly homeless families and 267 individuals are currently housed in scattered shelters in the County. In addition, there are 340 beds for families and 220 beds for individuals in what is known as transitional housing.
In addition to housing for the homeless, there are 277 beds in group homes with some supervision and 2,257 beds in over 400 group homes with substantial supervision scattered throughout the County. These residences are serving people with minor to intense developmental issues.

Someone recently asked me why we should go against a community’s desire when there is conflict over a property, as was the case in Hillmead. After all, it is just one piece of property, merely a drop in the bucket. But I believe that local government is about paying attention to the small stuff. Folks at the federal and state level can make housing policy a priority, but they don’t actually build it. We do. And we do it within communities and throughout neighborhoods. That’s why I cringe when folks marginalize housing initiatives by saying that they are just a drop in the bucket. Well, what is a bucket but a combination of many drops?

In the case of the Hillmead property, there was a whopping price tag of $2.5 million for one acre of parkland. When the proposal first came to the PHED committee, we were aware of the likelihood of budget problems, and we were concerned about the fiscal implications of such a purchase. The existence of a home on the property allowed us to consider other public uses as well, and that made the expense much more palatable to me.

Although I’m disappointed the Council decided to demolish the home in this case, there will be many more opportunities in the coming months and years. To learn more about the County’s housing policy, click on the links to the right. How do you think we can reconcile the County’s housing policy with community desires in future cases?

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