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Making Strides to Alleviate Poverty

April 17, 2014

Poverty is a growing challenge in our country and our county and it is going to take a concerted effort if we are to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents. But while there is much more work to be done, it is important to take a step back once in a while and celebrate the progress that has been made by some of our County's finest non-profit organizations.


In late March, I was pleased to attend Interfaith Works' Companies Caring Breakfast. For more than 40 years, Interfaith Works has provided services to meet the needs of the poor and homeless in the County. It was great to hear the message at the event about how we as a community need to nurture 'seeds of hope' in vulnerable children, families and individuals to make Montgomery County an even better place to live, learn, and work.


On April 9th, I was honored to join my colleagues George Leventhal and Craig Rice as we celebrated the progress made by the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless. With their leadership, we have begun focusing on prioritizing finding permanent housing for the people who are most vulnerable -- people who could die as tragically happened in Washington DC just the other day -- and without a home.  We heard moving testimony from one such formerly homeless man, someone whose bad heart could have cost him his life if he had not found a home.  And with a home, he has thrived, as is true of many who find a home after homelessness.  


Our Council has played a positive role as well.  Last December, we approved $640,000 to provide permanent housing with supportive services for 15 additional homeless individuals, identified as the most vulnerable. 


Whenever I encounter homelessness, I say to myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."  Needless to say, I look forward to continue partnering with both organizations as they continue their tremendous work in making these 'seeds of hope' grow in our communities.

Legislation to Maximize Use of County Assets in Creating More Affordable Housing: Passed
February 11, 2013
On the last day of my term as Council President I introduced legislation that would encourage the County to maximize the use of our own assets to create additional affordable housing.

As I said in my last newsletter, Montgomery County is a national leader on affordable housing - but we can and must do more.  The DC region is expected to need 35,000 new affordable housing units by 2030 to accommodate our growing workforce.  To continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive region, we must be at the forefront of this effort.

Bill 37-12, which passed unanimously on Tuesday, requires the Executive Branch to submit an evaluation of the feasibility of co-locating affordable housing with most new projects in our County's Capital Improvements Program.  Co-locating affordable housing won't be right for every project, but we need to get creative in order to add to our current stock.  If Alexandria can do it on top of a firestation, there are sure to be appropriate opportunities here in Montgomery County, too.  I am pleased that this legislation had the support of my colleagues and I look forward to continuing to work with the County Executive and his staff on this critical issue.
A Vote on Accessory Apartments
February 11, 2013
The Council took a final vote on the matter of accessory apartments on Tuesday. Following the lengthy public hearing back in September, I wrote to you that I hoped our Council would "find ways in which we can facilitate more affordable housing opportunities and still honor and maintain the integrity of our wonderful residential neighborhoods." After extensive work of the PHED Committee, and after taking into account some of the biggest concerns of residents, I believe we have done that.
The Council took a straw vote on January 22, that tentatively approved ZTA 12-11, which amends the Zoning Ordinance to allow accessory apartments under certain circumstances; and Bill 31-12, which establishes a licensing procedure for accessory apartments. But after the straw vote, like many of you, I remained concerned that the proposed limit on accessory apartments - 2500 square feet - was just way too large. I also shared the concern of many of my constituents that removing the requirement that a home be at least five years old before allowing an accessory apartment could allow the construction of homes with built-in accessory apartments "on spec."

Given the strong concern among my constituents on these two points, I offered amendments that addressed both: the first amendment set the size limit back down to the current limit, 1200 square feet; the second reinserted the five year requirement. I am pleased that both of these amendments passed with strong support from my colleagues on an 8-1 vote. After voting on these amendments, the Council unanimously approved both ZTA 12-11 and Bill 31-12.

I know that this proposal has caused some concern among communities in District 1. I want to thank my constituents who constructively engaged with the Council on this issue, because in the end, I think we arrived at a finished product that reflected community concerns but still achieves the original objective: to modestly add to the stock of affordable housing in the County and to allow for a more streamlined process while allowing community concerns regarding parking in particular to be fully aired where appropriate.
Maximizing County Assets to Create New Affordable Housing
December 19, 2012
Montgomery County has been a national leader on affordable housing, developing the successful Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program which has served as a national model. The County can and must do more, however. The DC region is projected to need 35,000 new affordable housing units by 2030 to meet the needs of the region's growing workforce.

I have not always been persuaded that we as a County were doing enough on our own property to meet this objective.  If we are to make meaningful strides in our quest to add to the County's affordable housing stock, then we must maximize our County-owned assets to the extent possible and appropriate.

That is why last month I introduced legislation that would require a formal assessment of the feasibility of co-locating affordable housing with each new project recommended for our Capital Improvements Program, excluding roads.  Other jurisdictions have been successful in this endeavor - Alexandria has even successfully co-located affordable housing with a new firestation

These are the kinds of innovative approaches that I believe our County needs to embrace in order to continue making meaningful progress on this front.  A public hearing on the legislation is scheduled for January 15 at 1:30 PM.  To testify, send your written comments to or call (240) 777-7803 to sign up. 
Accessory Apartments
September 25, 2012

Earlier this month, the Council held a public hearing regarding Zoning Text Amendment 12-11, accessory apartments. Thirty people testified at the hearing, which lasted for over two hours. Some speakers were in support of the ZTA, some speakers were in opposition to the ZTA, and a few were some combination of both.


Montgomery County's zoning code currently allows for accessory apartments by special exception - a process that includes the Hearing Examiner, the Board of Appeals, and a public hearing. The process takes between eight and twelve months and can cost a few hundred dollars. There are roughly 400 licensed accessory apartments in the County today, and the Department of Permitting Services received 22 new applications in the last year.


The ZTA, as introduced at the request of the Planning Board, would permit accessory apartments not by special exception but "by right" - meaning no special exception required.  This change is consistent with the recommendations made by the County Executive's Task Force on Affordable Housing. This would be a significant change from the current procedure and deserves serious consideration before any modifications to the process are made.


The main argument in favor of the ZTA is that it would encourage more affordable housing units and make it easier for home owners to stay in their homes. The main arguments against the ZTA are that it could change the character of communities, increase parking problems, and adversely affect home values. Under the ZTA, the number of new accessory apartments would be capped at 2,000. Most communities that have adopted similar measures, and our Planning Board, expects considerably fewer units should this new system be put in place.


The Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) will have several worksessions on accessory apartments, starting on October 8 at 9:30 AM. While I am not a member of the Committee, I will be monitoring its work closely.  As someone who believes in finding common ground, I hope that the Committee and our Council will be able to find ways in which we can facilitate more affordable housing opportunities and still honor and maintain the integrity of our wonderful residential neighborhoods. I will be working towards that objective.

Housing Element of the General Plan April 15, 2011

Housing Element of the General PlanThe Council recently adopted a new Housing Element of the General Plan, which informs other parts of the General Plan, along with our County's housing policy.  The Housing Element had previously not been updated since 1993. 


The Council made several changes from the recommended version sent over to us by the Planning Board in July 2009.  The Council concluded that one of the most controversial pieces, a recommendation on accessory apartments, required further consideration outside of the context of the General Plan.  We will address that piece this summer. 

Off-Street Parking Limitations November 22, 2010

The Council recently approved Zoning Text Amendment 09-03, Home Occupations and Residential Off-Street Parking.  The legislation addresses complaints from older neighborhoods whose residents believe that excessive numbers of vehicles, combined with abuses of home occupation regulations, negatively impact the residential feel of their community.  Approval of this ZTA comes in addition to passage of several other pieces of legislation that together aim to protect the character of existing neighborhoods.  For more information, please see the Council's October 26 press release

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