Bulldozing a Common Sense Housing Policy

In order to have permission to build housing, the county requires that developers also build a certain amount of lower-cost housing units. The number of Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs, to you) is based on a proportion of the number of total housing units being built.

For the moment, let’s put aside the significant issues: Why is there a shortage of affordable housing? What are the unintended consequences of this policy? And are there better ways to improve the cost of housing in the county?

The regulation so well reflects the Montgomery County way of doing things: Just do it because I said so!

Okay, it’s not that bad; it’s worse. The county used to allow developers to bribe – er, buy their way out of the requirement, by paying into an affordable housing fund. As you might predict, having developers build new housing turned out to be a more effective way of getting housing than piling up a county fund. So three years ago, the county council virtually eliminated that option.

There were two situations, though, where builders were allowed to pay into the fund instead of building the affordable units. One such exception was made for condominium units whose monthly fees would put the units beyond the reach of the lower-income families the policy aims to help. It didn’t make much sense to require builders to build housing that couldn’t be occupied. The other exception was where environmental constraints made the additional housing infeasible. For example, constructing extra units in high rises becomes impracticable because of the cost of additional steel-reinforced concrete.

The Gazette reports that these common-sense exceptions are very rarely used; in fact, they have only been used once in the past year. But politicians find that they can get tremendous political mileage by vilifying the people who build homes. So Council Members Leventhal and Trachtenberg have sponsored legislation to eliminate that little-used, common sense exception. Common sense, after all, stands little chance against self-aggrandizing politicians.

A Council hearing is scheduled for July 19th.

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Explore posts in the same categories: County government, Housing, Regulation

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