Friday, August 15, 2008

Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part Five

In Part Four, per capita income and average home value were closely correlated with percentages of subsidized housing by zip code. But so are demographics: specifically, percentages of black and Hispanic residents.

The chart below compares the 15 zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized housing to the 15 zip codes with the lowest percentages. In Part Four, we noted that the zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized units had half the per capita income and half the median home value of the zip codes with the lowest percentages. But we can also see that the highest percentage zip codes had more than four times the percentage of blacks and three times the percentage of Hispanics as the lowest percentage zip codes.

Race tends to be correlated with income. In 1999, white non-Hispanic Montgomery County residents had an average per capita income of $55,533 in 2007 dollars. Black residents had an average per capita income of $29,717 (54% of whites) and Hispanic residents received $21,190 (38%). These income differences affect where these groups can live and some of this may be reflected in the above data.

But there is more than that. The location of subsidized housing, especially large clusters of subsidized units, is extremely controversial. Few politicians will risk constructing public housing complexes in wealthy neighborhoods. We have seen signs of this in Montgomery County, whether in the protests of some Burtonsville residents against “undesirables” or resistance to use of the Piotrow residence in Hillmead for public housing. There are many reasons for this but race and class tensions cannot be dismissed.

Consider the following emails sent to the County Council urging demolition of the Hillmead house:

It did not take too long for your plan to house a “special needs” population next to Hillmead Park to impact property values in our neighborhood. One house under contract x2...both contracts pulled once the potential buyers received word of the county's plan. We have been told that Hillmead is “red-flagged” for potential buyers as well as builders. This is not too encouraging for the prosperity of our community. Your thoughts? Do you have any concerns for the tax- paying residents of this neighborhood? I think this is a fair question as Mr. Leggett is raising property taxes to collect $128 million dollars to address this county's fiscal crisis.


My family has lived in Hillmead for over 40 years.

I would like to voice my concern about the building now standing at 6221 Bradley Blvd. and what is being proposed to become.

I would rather see more green space. I would rather have more animals be housed in the green than to have people come in tractors and kill more trees and pollute more the air.

I am concerned that the people you are proposing to be housed at 6221 be so poor that they would need to take extreme measures for survival and break and enter into our homes or for that matter break into our cars and drive away with them. I am concerned for children's safety.

Three years ago my husband's brand new car was stolen right outside our door. We still think to this day that the people at the shelter, or their visitors, mainly the visitors had something to do with it.

We live in this neighborhood because it was a safe and beautiful place to raise a family and it is the only house we have had since we got married. We work very hard (two jobs each) to keep up with Montgomery County taxes, food prices, rising gasoline prices and also to keep the house up to date so that we can sell it and have money for our retirement.

You tell me, dear council members, would you like to be in a dilemma of getting a lot less money for your property just because your neighbors are not up to par with the rest of the area? If you don't mind, then, may I suggest that you let the poor family live next to you and you let us tear down the house at 6221 at Hillmead citizens' expense and leave the park area as park and let the earth be green and reign once again.


Have you lost your minds? I simply cannot believe that anyone with an IQ above that of a retarded chicken would seriously consider putting a welfare brood sow and her 13 kids in a $2.5 million mansion paid for by the taxpayers of this county. This is appalling!! What kind of message does this send to hardworking individuals who are struggling to stay in their homes because of high property taxes in this county? Answer: Be a irresponsible bum and the county will put you in a mansion. Even Lenin in his wildest moments never came up with a scheme this diabolical.

Consider the following comments made on Marc Fisher’s post on the issue (anonymously of course):

Now if the voters will remove [Council Member George] Leventhal from office, then victory will be complete. Enough of this political stupidity from councilmembers and media types who want this garbage in everyone's neighborhood but their own.

Congratulations to the residents of Hillmead. You have a lot of support.


The “thousands of families sitting on Montgomery's waiting list for housing assistance” wouldn't be on Montgomery's waiting list if Montgomery would quit putting them in hotel rooms at taxpayer expense. They would move to a place where the cost of housing is in line with their skills, such as PG County or Allegany County.


There is plenty of affordable housing for people who work in Montgomery County--it's called “Frederick.”

And here are more anonymous comments on a Washington Post article about Hillmead:

Why should anyone welcome “needy” (read: most likely addicted, convicted, evicted, and illegal) residents in prosperous neighborhoods? So they can move in and turn a lovely street into one dominated by the house that has 11 cars, a revolving door for “relatives”? So that a drug dealer is closer? So sorry, I don't get it...


People will always protect their own neighborhood and I don't blame them. They have every right to stop the county from artificially changing the landscape of their neighborhood.


Let George Leventhal put the homeless in HIS house, then we'll see whether he walks his own talk.

Not enough? Here’s one more comment from another Marc Fisher post:

Leventhal is insane, that's all there is to it. He has no logical link between fair housing and spending taxpayer money on a veritable mansion. Quite simple, the neighbors have every right to decide where public housing goes because that's the definition of PUBLIC housing. Housing is zoned through an democratic process involving elected officials. Through that process the neighbors absolutely get a say. What's next, because of fair housing, the count council should not be an elected body because that would give neighbors a voice in where public housing is built? Leventhal is confusing public and private housing and is envisioning himself as a king who doesn't have to answer to his constituents. He's so far right wing he thinks he's left wing.

I would gladly have paid the family who “got” that house $3000 per month to rent it from them and, based on friends who have successfully done that with rent controlled apartments in NYC, I would have succeeded. Then the family would be dealing with housing issues and I would be written up in the Post as tricking the system.

But in fact, that's not tricking the system, that's how every single instance of public housing works at all times. The system has zero effective historic examples. There is, quite literally, not one single example of publicly-set up affordable housing that did not fall victim to scammers, graft, and “friends who are just staying for a little while.” Zero examples of successful public housing in American history. It's true.

Did race and class animosity motivate every person who wanted to demolish the Hillmead house? No. Did it motivate some of them? Yes. Do racism and prejudice against public housing recipients exist in Montgomery County? It is difficult to read the above remarks and conclude that they do not. After all, every one of these comments was written by a real human being. The only question is the magnitude of the impact of these sorts of feelings on public policy, especially on the location of public housing.

The fact is that Montgomery County’s subsidized housing is disproportionately located in less wealthy neighborhoods with large percentages of blacks and Latinos. Most of the richest neighborhoods are protected from it. Two-thirds of the subsidized units are not convenient to Metro. For whatever reason, whether economic or influenced by racial and class animus, the county’s public housing system reinforces the regime of economic and race-tinged segregation created by the private market.

And our leaders have a moral responsibility to do something about it.