A More Affordable and Welcoming County

Montgomery County’s high cost of living reflects the fact that this is a great place to live. However, it is barrier to attracting and retaining young professionals and a hardship for many of our residents, including seniors with fixed incomes and families struggling to make ends meet, to the point where some of them experience hunger and homelessness. Even many public servants, like teachers and firefighters, can’t afford to live where they work. We need to find creative solutions to make Montgomery County a place where people across the wealth spectrum can pursue their dreams and immigrants can find a home.

Key Indicator I.  
Percent of Households that are Housing Burdened

About this Indicator: Being housing burdened is defined as when a household spends greater than 30% of its income on housing costs.  The data source is U.S. Census ACS 1-year estimates.
1. How are we doing?
While the percent of homeowners who are housing burdened has been trending downward, more than half of renters in the County continue to spend an outsize portion of their income on a place to live.
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Existing housing programs and subsidies. There is an array of rental and homeownership programs provided by the County and the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), including the Housing Initiative Fund (“HIF”) for affordable housing development, the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (“MPDU”) program and preservation programs designed to maintain deteriorating affordable-housing stock.
 Collaborative initiatives. Programs such as HIF, MPDU, Shared Housing, Accessory Apartments, and Aging in Place provide the political energy and guidance needed to take action as a community.
 Engaged leadership. The County’s political leadership is engaged and has prioritized housing as an area of focus.
Negative Factors
 Housing supply issues. Poor land utilization and availability results in existing housing stock demanding a high price. Barriers to development include zoning and permitting regulations, development costs (high cost of land acquisition and construction costs), and a lengthy planning process to amend and confirm master plans.
 Transportation and accessibility. The desire to live as near as possible to one’s work is a heightened priority for many due to excessive traffic, driving home values up. 
 Lack of diversity in our housing stock. There is limited availability of certain types of homes that fit into affordability bands of County residents. 
 Insufficient income. Some residents do not have jobs that afford even “entry-level” homes.
 Structural Racism. Structural racism inhibits the development of affordable housing in many areas of the county and is often manifested and/or compounded by NIMBYism and gentrification. 
 Disengaged developers. For-profit developers are disengaged from the portions of the community that are most in need of affordable housing. 
 Poor quality of lower-cost options. Significant amounts of the existing moderate- to low-cost housing in the County suffers from deferred maintenance and is deteriorating.
3. What strategies do we recommended to turn the curve? 
 Expand Housing Initiative Fund
a.   Provide a minimum of $100 million for the annual Housing Initiative Fund to expand and support for affordable housing development.
b.   Increase funding for preservation of existing affordable housing.
 Zoning/Regulatory expansion of supply.
a.   Implement policies to expand the supply of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU is a smaller, independent residential dwelling unit located on the same lot as a stand-alone single-family home), including reducing Home Owner Association restrictions on ADUs.
b.   Adjust zoning and permitting to reduce development costs and time.
c.   Expand understanding of County land/building availability, consider additional regulatory support for allowing development of affordable housing on land owned by faith communities and assist in identifying faith-based organizations to collaborate on affordable housing projects.
d.   Increase Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDU) requirement for density bonus.
e.   Reduce parking requirements and costs for transit centric development.
f.   Transit-related development: Ensure a net increase in affordable units along major transit projects (e.g. Purple Line); and expand incentives for transit-centric development.
Rental policies
a.   Dedicate funds to tenant right of first refusal purchases, improve training and outreach on this subject.
b.   Protect multi-family communities with improved tenant education
c.   Incentivize utility cost reductions and subsidies to reduce monthly housing costs.
d.   Expand existing rental assistance program.
Homeownership policies
a.   Increase MPDU requirement for more unit creation, with a focus on housing near public transit.
b.   Create Moderate-Income homeownership program, including down payment loans.
Fair housing enforcement
a.   Increase enforcement of Fair Housing law, especially on quality and accessibility.
b.   Remove discriminatory barriers for immigrants and all disadvantaged groups.
c.   Improve outreach and education on opportunities for home ownership and rent subsidies.
d.   Provide emergency assistance and design a more effective system to prevent people from being evicted without cause.

Key Indicator II.  
Access to Affordable Child Care

About the Indicator: The Maryland Family Network (MFN) maintains a database of all licensed childcare centers in the State. The data below represents the average cost in Montgomery County for both “home-based” care (labelled “Infant” by MFN) and “center-based” care (labelled “Preschooler” by MFN). The graph below shows the annual average cost of each as well as the total, representing a family with one child in each category.
1.  How are we doing?
For a family with two children (one in each age category), the average annual increase in child care costs is an astonishing $546, largely out of reach and likely unsustainable for many County families. 
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
Engaged leadership. The political will exists to address childcare availability and affordability.
Training. There are available programs and educational resources for licensing childcare providers.
Cooperation. Collaborative initiatives such as Montgomery Moving Forward, which convenes cross-sector county leaders to address complex community problems with a focus on economically disadvantaged families, leveraging the Collective Impact model.
Negative Factors
 Financial. The County and State governments provide limited subsidies for child care for working families.  Creative ways to increase the amount of subsidies are needed if demand is to be met. 
 Lack of supply.  Barriers to entry into the market for many would-be providers include low compensation, the high cost of real estate, necessary renovations to meet requirements, and regulations governing usable space to child ratios. 
 Regulations. Stringent rules create a secondary childcare “grey market” (off the books, unlicensed providers).
 Lack of flexibility. Families are constrained by the services, hours, days, contracts, etc. that are currently provided.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
1)      Availability of space.
a.      Commission a comprehensive study and report to assess the needs and gaps in service of the current childcare network. This could be in collaboration with MNCPPC and/or consultants to provide assessment of spaces available in the County and to document possible planning-related strategies that can increase the access of space to childcare providers.
b.      Create a working group/results team to identify innovative solutions for making both private and public childcare spaces available in County.
c.       Deliver an easy-to-use data portal to identify childcare vacancies/slots available at all private and public childcare providers.
d.      Create incentives and programs to enable small independent child care to establish themselves and grow, including access to loans, streamlined permitting and access to relevant demographic decision-making data and information.
 2)      Funding and increasing subsidies:
a.      The County should engage the employer communities as they have much to gain from increased affordable child care among their potential and existing employees.
b.      Increase coordination between the County and the State’s subsidy programs.
c.       Create a program that provides zero-interest loans for childcare providers to complete renovations of childcare space.
d.      Match the Maryland state contributions of dollars for subsidizing the child care costs of low-income families.
e.      Incentivize developers/tenants/businesses to make space available within commercial businesses and properties.
f.        Create a tax credit for childcare providers at the county level. 
g.       Subsidize the costs of the Maryland state training for individuals that are becoming licensed childcare providers.
h.      Increase the number of seats for County funded Pre-K for eligible low-income families.
i.        Provide universal Pre-K for all 3 & 4-year olds.
j.        Explore Pay for Success financing to expand quality early childhood education slots.
3)      Regulations and Licensing:
Send formal request to Annapolis to simplify and deregulate the licensing and regulations placed upon childcare providers.
 4)      Engage and Collaborate with the Business Community:
Continue and empower the Montgomery Moving Forward Initiative. 

Key Indicator III.  
Food Insecurity

About the Indicator: This measure – a reliable proxy of food insecurity across the County – is reported by the Maryland State Department of Education and is comprised of the count of children that receive Free and/or Reduced Meals (FARMS) Benefits at their school. Families/Students are eligible for this benefit at 185% of the federal poverty level. 
 1.  How are we doing?
The FARMS Rate has been ticking up at a slow but consistent rate across all levels of Montgomery County Schools.
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Prioritization. The County has made a choice to intentionally address food insecurity.
 The Food Security Strategy. County government continues to collaborate with community partners to fulfill the actions that are prescribed in the Strategy for a Food Secure Montgomery. Additional interactive data can be found at the FoodStat App.
Negative Factors
 Poverty. Low incomes and a high cost of living are the key drivers of food insecurity. Competing priorities and expenses within many Montgomery County households means having to choose between paying for food, rent, childcare, health insurance, and other necessities.
 Lack of knowledge. Many households are not educated about proper nutrition and do not have information about available healthy food resources.
 Limited mobility. Some households and families do not have a vehicle, and therefore must rely on public transit to reach a grocery store or other market, making shopping for healthy food more challenging.
 General lack of awareness. Given our high median household income, many may not realize that food insecurity is an issue in Montgomery County. Food deserts exist (in East County and Up-County primarily). There are SNAP eligibility issues affecting seniors and certain immigrant populations. The recent federal government shutdown has increased the public’s awareness regarding food insecurity and the reality of living paycheck-to-paycheck. 
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
1)      Build on the foundation of the Food Security Plan by accelerating the existing strategies laid out in the Plan.
a.      The County Executive can convene an annual food security summit to review the status and gaps in implementation of the Plan
 2)      Continue to develop the coordination of pick-up/distribution sites across the county:
a.      Increase data collection on people and families picking up food from non-profit food assistance providers, school, and government assistance programs.
b.      Develop publicly available application for identifying where distribution sites are in the County.
c.       Create a program that can give access to County facilities not currently in use to house non-profits that work to combat food insecurity.
3)      Availability of healthful food production in the County:
a.      Implement County funded subsidies for particular healthy foods.
b.      Incentivize production of healthful food in the Agricultural Reserve and high-density areas in the County.
 4)      Partnerships
a.      Partner with school system to cover service gaps when serving children and families.
b.      Expand current family grocery markets at high schools, like the one at John F.  Kennedy High School.
c.       Seek collaborative efforts with Healthcare, MCPS, Parks, and in workforce development settings, senior housing.
d.      Partner with grocery stores near schools with family markets.
e.      HHS could keep track of the areas most in need and make specific requests or food recovery and distribution organizations to direct their efforts there.
5)      Education and Policy Strategies:
a.      Expand education programs on nutrition, culinary skills, farming, and waste reduction
b.      Seek and promote healthful food subsidies from the state and federal government such as the Maryland State Priority Funding Areas incentives.
c.       Social services and faith based groups working with the County government should increase efforts to educate the broader public regarding food insecurity along with ways they can engage to address this fundamental injustice.

The Team

Team Captain:
Chuck Short
Team Members:
Bruce Baker
Andy Banks
Fatmata Barrie
Elaine Binder
Art Brodsky
Heather Bruskin
Bill Conway
Jackie DeCarlo
Frank Demarais
Natali Fani-Gonzales
Leila Finucane
Lorna Forde
Barbara Goldberg Goldman
Rob Goldman

Pat Grant
Mimi Hassanein
Wendy Hestick
Austin Heyman
Song Hutchins
Omega Jawonezi
Kim Jones
Peter Kovar
George Leventhal
Matt Losak
Hang Lu
Pam Luckett
Zorayda Moreira-Smith
Shane Rock
Ruby Rubens
Chung Pak
John Paukstis
Myrna Peralta

Vernon Ricks
Martha Sanchez
Peggy Sand
Abe Schuchman
Michael Sesma
Susie Sinclair-Smith
Ryan Spiegel
Kate Stewart
Zachary Trupp
Juan Pablo Vacatello
Bishop Paul Walker, Sr.
Rev. Timothy Warner
Marcais Frazier
Thomas Tippett

Public feedback and questions from the CE’s Listening Sessions relating to this Priority Outcome reflect concerns about:
  • Supporting our immigrants and the distinct immigrant communities to be successful through: better information (including language access), access to legal services, support to achieve citizenship, support for our non-profits and faith groups, positive interactions between MCPD and immigrant communities, and inclusion in an accurate 2020 Census count.
  • Maintaining effective Office of Community Partnerships Advisory Groups (perhaps better organize/consolidate where there are many groups that seek to help a single sub-population) and protecting the Gilchrist Center.
  • Increasing affordable housing and rents – for millennials and seniors (aging in place) and those in between; addressing the lack of diversity of socioeconomics in some neighborhoods.
  • Developing Equity policies and remembering that diversity has many dimensions including seniors, people with disabilities, and the homeless.
  • Combating discrimination and hate crimes and improving code enforcement, especially in areas where the quality of life has declined because of crime, overcrowded housing and code violations.
  • Maintaining our libraries and other cultural centers.
A public survey on the transition website collected input from residents as well; Respondents conveyed the following related to this Priority Outcome:
  • The issue featured in the greatest number of responses by far was housing affordability. Some respondents focused on the role of development in the creation of new low- and moderate-income units. Multiple respondents cited taxes, zoning, and land use as factors in the cost of living and housing affordability.
  • Respondents supported efforts to promote diversity and foster engagement of communities. Some responses specifically referenced assisting immigrants in connecting to services and their community.
  • A recurring topic was equity and ensuring that the county is free from discrimination and offers opportunity to all. Multiple respondents supported the provision of human services to promote equity and inclusion.
  • Transportation and integrating new development with public transit were identified as an important factor in housing and accessibility.
  • Other issues discussed in multiple responses were the cost of living, employment and pay, libraries, equity in schools, and support for seniors.

Performance Index: A More Affordable and Welcoming County

Below can be found the Montgomery County Government Departmental Performance Measures that align with the County Executive's Priority to provide a more affordable and welcoming County.