June 30, 2008

Mansion, Park, or Affordable Housing? Montgomery County Decides

Some call it pork pushing. Others? Affordable Housing

I came across an interesting story in The Washington Post a few weeks ago. You can check out the story here, but here’s the short of it:

Montgomery County buys a mansion under market value for $2.5 million, with intentions to bulldoze it to extend the neighborhood park nearby. A proposal then surfaced to renovate the house instead and to use it to house a large homeless family with thirteen kids. Renovation would cost twice as much as demolition, but the county has been paying to house homeless families in motels to keep them off the streets. Because large families are hard to house in motels, county-owned homes have been used in the past to house such families. The house would be made “affordable” to this family, which means they would pay 30% of their monthly income to lease it. For the Hillmead neighborhood, the park expansion would still occur; the question was whether or not the house would remain.

Efforts to dilute the geographic concentration of affordable housing in the area have received varying levels of support and opposition. The controversial New Communities Initiative, something we’ll be talking about in a week or two, attempts to do just this. Much of the opposition to affordable housing construction comes from the community in which the housing structure will be built. Even in the context of a pre-existing housing structure in this Hillmead neighborhood, the opinions voiced, perhaps unsurprisingly, were ones of opposition. One Hillmead resident criticized,
"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."

The question of the Hillmead house, like many affordable housing questions, is complex on a few levels. If it were simply a question of what has more value, housing the homeless or additional usable space for the Hillmead Park, I don’t think any opposition would be heard. There are numerous other factors involved, including: the original intentions of the county, the property rights of Hillmead residents and how far they extend, the precedent of placing homeless families in county-owned houses, the inhospitable situation the family is being put in, and the opinion of not only the Hillmead residents but of Montgomery residents at large. More importantly, how relevant are these factors?

I haven’t parsed out the issue all the way through, but apparently the county has. The Hillmead house will be demolished. Final statements from the chief sponsor and chief opponent have been released. My own thoughts on the issue, along with the questions circumscribing the geographic polarization of affordable housing opportunities, remain unresolved.

No comments: