County looks to address affordable housing
Council subcommittee meets to discuss consulting options
In response to increasing challenges and attempts innovative ways to ensure housing is available and affordable for families at all income levels, members of the Prince George’s County Council Comprehensive Housing Strategy Ad Hoc Sub-Committee held a joint meeting July 26 at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
According to an executive summary report on “Housing Security in the Washington Region” from the Urban Institute and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the shortage of affordable housing in the Washington, D.C., region is becoming increasingly clear as many households are still struggling
to get by on minimum- or low-wage jobs.
Insufficient income is a significant barrier for many people in obtaining and remaining in affordable housing. Nearly onethird of owner-occupied households in the Washington region paid more than 30 percent of their monthly income in housing costs, with cost burden rates that ranged from 88 percent for extremely low-income households to 10 percent for high-income households, the report also noted.
“While we’re on recess, we’re going to attempt to ensure that the very difficult work of Prince George’s County, in this region during this time of recovery as it continues to take place,” said Council Chairman Derrick L. Davis (D). “When we went through the recession, it hit just about everybody. It’s a good distant memory and hopefully we don’t repeat it. But we plan to be prepared.”
The council’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy is a plan, to be developed over an 18-month period from April 2016 to October 2017, for assessing and addressing the needs of the county through 2035. It will not only focus on issues of housing supply, affordability and quality, but also assess housing needs and gaps in housing — for households at all income levels and tenure types — and develop a set of policies and strategies to address those needs, according to a memorandum dated June 15 from the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
“I’ve heard everything from transit-oriented housing to rural housing. But in Prince George’s County, it’s probably the only place where you can get just about everything and we still have the opportunity to do more,” Davis said. “If we plan it right, it can continue to give and balance out essentially our tax base. … I just want to make sure that that conversation is inherent to how we operate. It’s not a right or wrong; it’s a formula that we have to strike.”
The meeting featured presentations from Melissa Bondi of Enterprise Community Partners and Hilary Chapman from the Metro Washington Council of Governments. Both organizations, which are a part of the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Group/Task Force/Committee, operate as partners with the council’s ad hoc committee.
Bondi and Chapman discussed models of comprehensive housing strategies and frameworks for consultant assistance.
Since 1982, Enterprise has worked to create opportunity for low- and moderate-income people through affordable housing in diverse, thriving communities, according to its website. Enterprise helped to design and implement the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and remains at the forefront of all critical housing and community development policies, according to its website.
“Our region certainly relies on having adequate supply of housing that’s safe and decent and affordable to people at every area all around the spectrum,” Bondi said. “It goes from state housing all the way to those who may be homeless or at risk of being homeless and everywhere in between.”
The report claims that the Washington region has long been among the most expensive metropolitan areas nationally and housing has become increasingly unaffordable for many households in recent years. Although the area has generally higher incomes and wages than most other places in the country, incomes are not keeping pace with rising housing costs.
The recent housing crisis forced many households out of homeownership and brought about tighter lending standards that made home mortgages more difficult to obtain. Homeownership, which is the path to savings and stability for most people living in the U.S., is out of reach for many in the region not because of a lack of steady income, but because high prices fueled by excessive demand squeeze potential buyers out of the market.
Most homeless people in families and single adults, however, did not need permanent supportive housing. Rather, many just needed affordable renting housing and, in some cases, additional supports such as assistance with securing child care, health insurance and employment, to help them hold a lease and maintain rent payments over time, the report also noted.
“All housing plans are on an ambitious timeline,” Bondi said. “We have a lot of really high-quality consulting firms, organizations, academic institutions who can offer services in a wide variety of elements. Many of those consultants can do more than one thing.”
The continuum of housing needs — from basic shelter to supportive housing from a subsidized apartment to an affordable home for sale — encompasses housing for homeless individuals and families, renters and for homeowners. To provide for households at different points along the continuum, the federal government, state and local jurisdictions, private investors and philanthropic organizations have created several public and private programs to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing, the report noted.
In order to remain competitive, the region must address housing affordability to ensure that its workforce can continue to find housing without having to commute further to work. Policymakers are increasingly paying attention to affordable housing as a platform for connecting households with other supports and services than can help them achieve better outcomes.
“Research and data, actual writing, policy expertise and design or facilitation of a public process really comprise, in my mind, four big-picture categories for consulting,” Bondi said.
Funding for affordable housing and homeless services will require local jurisdictions like Prince George’s County to find innovative ways to produce more affordable housing through zoning ordinances and regulatory policies or by raising revenue to fill the gaps, potentially by leveraging local resources or offering tax-exempt bonds, according to the report.
The county’s housing and community development department suggests that the broad goals of the Comprehensive Housing Strategy include developing policies and strategies that would create diverse housing choices; promoting regional housing collaboration and coordination; increasing homeownership opportunities; and encouraging sustainable communities and energy efficiency.
The resources needed would include a research and analysis team, geographical information system (GIS) mapping capability, a website, social media support, graphic designer or graphic design support, printing and brochures as well as an estimated budget of $300,000 to $375,000. DHCD also recommends that the ad hoc sub-committee seek support from county agencies including the redevelopment and housing authority, department of permits, inspections and enforcement, the economic development corporation, park and planning department, social services department, public works/transportation department, Prince George’s County Public Schools, County Stat, the health department and family services department.
“With housing in particular, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We have a good wheel. We know how to do it well in this region and there’s no need to create something shiny and different to get a high-quality product,” Chapman said. “That’s to the county’s benefit and all of our benefit.”
“It sounds like [October 2017] is not a realistic timeline, especially from the perspective of a comprehensive housing strategy,” Davis said. “It’s really more about the overarching realities and being able to ensure that we get a good product.”
The projected date for the ad hoc sub-committee’s preliminary housing strategy is Jan. 31, 2017.
Prince George’s County Council members Deni Taveras, Mary Lehman, Todd Turner, Chairman Derrick Davis and Chairwoman Dannielle Glaros listen to Melissa Bondi from Enterprise Community Partners as she gives her presentation during a meeting held July 26...