More than half of Montgomery County renters are paying too much for housing, with costs often gobbling up more than 50 percent of their annual incomes, a new study found.
The report slated for delivery to Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday also showed that the county is suffering from a shortage of 20,000 affordable rental units. But a menu of recommendations included in the study will offer county officials with ideas for tackling the housing needs.
High development costs have contributed to the region’s lack of moderately priced housing, said Lisa Govoni, research and special projects manager for the Montgomery County Planning Department.
“We understand that affordable housing is expensive [to build], but we think it’s important that people be able to afford to live here,” she said. “We’ve come up with a variety of ways to do that. We want to be flexible, but we also want to be predictable.”
The assessment, which has been a couple years in the making, will be presented to the board before heading to the Montgomery County Council for review in July, Govoni said. The planning department and Montgomery County Department of Housing hired consultants RKG Associates and Lisa Sturtevant & Associates to conduct the study.
One of the report’s major findings is that almost all county renters earning less than 50 percent of area median income—$96,300 for a family of three—are cost-burdened, Govoni said.
“Most are severely burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their annual income on housing. In other terms, a household earning approximately $50,000 (before taxes) is likely to be spending at least $25,000 of that income for housing,” the report stated.
To address the report’s findings, county leaders could consider overhauling the county’s moderately priced dwelling unit program, which requires developers to include affordable housing in their projects. Currently, at least 12.5 percent of homes must be moderately priced in developments of 20 homes or more, although the standard is 15 percent in downtown Bethesda and other specific parts of the county, Govoni said. Officials could consider expanding the 15 percent minimum to other areas or even make it countywide, the study suggested.
They could also look at shifting the program away from its sole focus on unit count. Most developers satisfy the MPDU mandate by constructing lofts or one-bedroom apartments and create few affordable options for families with children. Basing the MPDU requirement on square footage instead of unit count could encourage the development of two- or three-bedroom homes, Govoni said.
The county could also ease parking-space requirements in exchange for building moderately priced units.
Other suggestions are to look at using public land for housing and colocating affordable housing on properties with fire stations and libraries. Officials could keep track of affordable rental properties that are at risk for redevelopment, could offer financial education and credit counseling to lower-income renters and establish a fee or tax charged to property owners for demolishing apartments, according to the study.