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Council Plans Changes for Affordable Housing

Package of changes to be debated this fall.

An anticipated package of changes to the county's affordable housing laws was introduced on July 20. The group of two bills, four zoning text amendments, and one change to the subdivision regulations will be coupled with a bill and zoning text amendment introduced last year (see sidebar).

All of the Zoning Text Amendments, one of the bills and the subdivision regulation amendment were co-sponsored by the five "Go Montgomery" Councilmembers: Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Council President Steve Silverman (D-At Large), Michael Subin (D-At Large), Mike Knapp (D-2) and George Leventhal (D-at Large).

The other bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marilyn Praisner (D-4) and Leventhal.

"I do believe that this package of legislation offers some real solutions,' said Floreen, lead sponsor of most of the proposed changes.

The reform process began last year when several Councilmembers proposed changes to the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit, or affordable housing, program. Then-Council President Subin instructed the council staff to review the entire program, so that the different pieces of legislation could be views in a broader context.

The staff report was completed in February, and Floreen announced in April that she would introduce package of reforms.

The goal is to increase the availability of affordable housing in the county, Floreen said, and that will require reconsidering other priorities.

"The legislative package provides an economic balance," Floreen said. Some of the proposals would allow the Planning board to consider affordable housing as a priority and may allow it to trump other environmental and zoning concerns, for example density or building height.

Floreen cautions that she does not intend for the laws to do away with such factors. "What we do propose is adding some flexibility to the mix,” she said.

Other Councilmembers were concerned about the proposal, and the impact of the changes. “Clearly there need to be changes,” said Phil Andrews (D-3). "I'm concerned whether the proposals in the Zoning Text Amendments are necessary to achieve the goal."

Andrews was particularly concerned by what he sees as a relaxing of environmental standards. "Improve the MPDU program without making changes that will weaken environmental or public space requirements," he said.

Andrews, was one of the co-sponsors of a proposal last year to end the practice of allowing developers to "buyout," that is, pay a fee in lieu of building their affordable units. Andrews said that the buyouts are beginning to occur with “alarming regularity." That bill is being considered in conjunction with the other proposals.

The proposals will be sent to the Planning Housing and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Silverman.

"It is my intention … to have the PHED committee meet day and night," he said.

Silverman stated that he would like the council to pass some sort of reforms to the program before they recess at the end of the year.

A public hearing for the entire package is scheduled for Sept. 23. Silverman said that he wanted to have all of the bills heard at once, at a long public hearing, rather than do it one at a time.

"Bring your sleeping bags for Sept. 23," Silverman said.