Let the conversations begin: Affordable housing in Takoma Park
By Apryl Motley
“I’ve been renting in Takoma Park for four years, but I can’t afford to buy a house here,” one resident observed.
She was part of a small group gathered in the Hydrangea Room at the TP Community Center for one of the break-out discussions held as part of the Feb. 6 Community Conversation on Affordable Housing in Takoma Park. And she wasn’t alone in her concerns about whether she would be able to continue calling the City home.
“I’m not sure if I can continue living in Takoma Park as a single, widowed, retired person,” another resident contributed to the discussion.
Someone else gave a disturbing account of discrimination she believes she experienced while trying to rent an apartment on Maple Avenue. A long-time resident of the City, she raised her kids in this community and now wants to downsize to a smaller unit.
As each person introduced him or herself to the group, which was charged with discussing new approaches to housing in Takoma Park, the universal concern was how feasible it would be for them to continue living in this community. One resident summed up this sentiment, “Keep existing residents in place; don’t squeeze us out.”
Getting these kinds of issues on the table for discussion figured prominently in Mayor Kate Stewart’s priorities as she took office. “We decided to kick off the Community Conversation series focusing on affordable housing because in Takoma Park we are committed to being a diverse and inclusive community,” she said. “Ensuring we’re diverse and inclusive requires that we have a variety of housing options for residents of all income levels and stages of life.”
“The question we need to be thinking about is ‘who do we want to be five or 10 years from now?’” Stewart continued. “We are growing and changing as a community, and taking a closer look at our current housing goals, priorities and policies and potentially developing new ones is a crucial first step toward answering this question.”
City staff in the Department of Housing and Community Development assisted Stewart in assembling a group of stellar panelists to offer a variety of perspectives on how the Takoma Park community might evolve over time. Before the small group discussions, residents heard from these experts in the affordable housing arena. As they listened, the City’s Community Development Director Sara Daines encouraged them to “think about what we’re currently doing that might be modified to address the needs of the current community.” A few topics were front and center as the panelists made their remarks.
Rent stabilization: Takoma Park landlord Peter Aron said, “I am very much in favor of affordable housing.” However, he questioned the long-term feasibility of the City’s Rent Stabilization Program, saying it has the unintended consequences of limiting property values and resulting in some landlords completing only minimal maintenance of rental properties. According to him, the assessed value of rental properties in the city continues to decline. “I would urge residents to take a hard look at the rent stabilization and consider other more sustainable options,” Aron said.
“I would urge residents to take a hard look at the rent stabilization and consider other more sustainable options”
Takoma Park’s Rent Stabilization Law was first adopted in 1981 and is one of the City’s primary affordable housing programs. The program is designed to preserve the city’s affordable housing stock and maintain economic and ethnic diversity by controlling the frequency and amount of rent increases that may be imposed by a landlord. To learn more about the program, visit takomaparkmd.gov/ government/housing-and-communitydevelopment.
Partnerships with the county: “Takoma Park is near and dear to us,” said Artie Harris, vice president of real estate and neighborhood development for the Montgomery Housing Partnership. “Twenty percent of our portfolio is in Takoma Park; many of our units are on Maple Avenue.” Harris, who has lived in Takoma Park since 2002, described renovation and rehab as the partnership’s “bread and butter,” as it works toward preserving and expanding affordable housing in Montgomery County.
According to him, however, the partnership faces challenges in this regard, such as high land and property building costs, competition from market rate builders and limited funding. Harris encouraged residents to push the County to increase the housing initiative fund or support the City establishing its own fund, co-locate affordable housing with City Property and look to the County as a partner more. “The City is a great partner of ours,” he said, “and we want to continue that partnership.”
A regional perspective: “The lack of affordable housing is the single greatest challenge in our region in addressing chronic homelessness,” said Hilary Chapman, housing program manager, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
“The lack of affordable housing is the single greatest challenge in our region in addressing chronic homelessness”
“Almost half the renters in the region are struggling with high housing costs,” added Peter Tatian, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute. According to Tatian, the region needs 94,000 units designated for extremely low income renters, but fulfilling this need is difficult given that building is not keeping pace with the need and there is more competition from higher income renters.
The Urban Land Institute and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have partnered to produce research on “Housing Security in the Washington Region.” The full report is available at www.urban.org/publications/413161.html.
The event concluded with each City Councilmember sharing his or her takeaways from the day.
“Even though I was familiar with the issues, the presentations were compelling,” said City Manager Suzanne Ludlow.
“This was just the beginning of the conversation,” Mayor Stewart said. “In the upcoming months, the City Council will take a look at the City’s current housing policies and work along with staff to consider some of the new and innovative ideas that were discussed to evaluate which are the best fits for Takoma Park.”
“Further, to address the housing needs in our community, we will need strong partners at the county and state levels,” she continued, “and I am very appreciative that County Councilmembers Tom Hucker, Marc Elrich, and George Leventhal were able to attend this event.”
Reflecting on the entire day, Stewart said, “As our city grows and changes, we must remain diligent to ensure residents have a range of housing options and most importantly, continued access to safe, quality and stable places to call home.”
This article appeared in the March 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.