Monday, August 11, 2008

Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part One

In June, the Montgomery County Council voted 5-4 to destroy a house located on land purchased for an addition to Hillmead Park in Bethesda rather than use it as subsidized housing. During the contentious debate, a number of Council Members disagreed on a core issue. Some stated that the Hillmead neighborhood, and Bethesda in general, contained more than their fair share of subsidized housing. Other Council Members contended that subsidized housing was concentrated in less wealthy neighborhoods, primarily in Silver Spring, Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Germantown. Who’s right?

Montgomery County’s Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) administers its subsidized housing programs. HOC’s programs include direct ownership and management of housing units (including units for seniors), rental assistance to homeless and disabled people, and vouchers which are used to pay part of the cost of private housing.

HOC does not administer the county’s Moderately-Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program, which requires developers to include cheaper units in new developments. As we discussed last January, MPDUs have never been built in sufficient numbers to drive down housing costs in the county. Furthermore, their prices are controlled for limited amounts of time ranging from 10-30 years. After price controls are lifted, the units are bought and sold at market prices. HOC occasionally purchases MPDUs and currently owns over 1,600 of them. While MPDUs are more affordable than market units, those that are privately-owned are not subsidized by the government.

In its fiscal 2008 budget, HOC projected ownership of 4,478 units, management of 2,248 units and assistance to 8,628 units (mostly through vouchers) for a total 13,106 subsidized units. During the Hillmead debate, HOC provided updated figures to the County Council indicating a current total of 13,567 units and revealing unit counts by zip code. We obtained that information and compared it to Census data on each zip code. Where is the county’s subsidized housing located? What are the characteristics of the areas that contain large (and small) numbers of subsidized units? Are there patterns in the location of these units?

We will begin answering those questions in Part Two.