Montgomery Affordable Housing Plan Impresses Carroll's Commissioners

November 17, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — An ordinance here that compels developers to include affordable housing units in all major developments could work in Carroll, Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said after a tour of housing projects Friday.

"I like the idea," said Dell. "We'd have to start from scratch and educate the people. We have the opportunity to take action and do something great."

The Montgomery ordinance requires developers to build 12.5 percent to 15 percent "moderately priced dwelling units" (MPDUs) in each project of 50 units or more for renters and homebuyers meeting income requirements.

In exchange for the less-expensive units, developers receive a density bonus, permitting them to build more units than zoning allows. The bonus compensates for high land costs and lost profits on below-market-value units. The program does not require any public money, except for administration.

Ideally, the moderately pricedunits are interspersed within developments, rather than segregated from fair-market-value units. That method tends to increase pride among MPDU dwellers and promotes interaction among different socio-economic groups.

"It's a better way of creating affordable housing than making it an island unto itself," said Sylvia Gorman, past president of the Carroll County Association of Realtors.

MPDUs typically look similar to fair-market-value units, but could be smaller and have fewer amenities.

The commissioners, county agency directors and Carroll banking and realty officials toured new developments that featured town houses, side by side, ranging from $65,000 to $350,000, and apartments in the same complex renting for $150 to $1,150 a month.

The MPDU concept has been given cursory consideration in Carroll recently, but has never been proposed. The concept has been advocated by a task force assigned three years ago to study affordable housing in Carroll.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy also supported the idea. He said it could relieve the burden on government to subsidize housing and could help moderate- and low-income residents achieve home ownership. It also would involve the expertise, creativity and financing of private industry, which often produces better results than efforts undertaken by government alone, he said.

But Lippy predicted initial public resistance to such a proposal.

"It represents a new way of doing things," he said. "Probably the majority would be against it because it's new. So many won't admit there's a need in the county for affordable housing."

But Dell said, "The politics doesn't bother me. If it's a good program, let's do it. If people don't like it, I don't mind taking the flak."

The county has no town house or apartment developments outside its eight municipalities. Zoning regulations allow multi-family units in unincorporated areas, but the developmentmust consist of at least 40 percent single-family homes and can't exceed six units per acre. An MPDU program requires more flexible zoning, said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

Because development in the county is channeled to the autonomous municipalities, those governmentsalso must buy into the program to make it work, say county officials.

Also, they say, it is difficult to increase housing densities inareas without public water and sewer. The program might work best inthe Westminster and Eldersburg-Sykesville areas, which have public systems, county officials say.

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