Montgomery has recently garnered attention for its not-so-public, public housing strategy.
Montgomery County is known for setting state and local benchmarks with its innovative policy solutions. Recently, the county has attracted national attention for its not-so-public, public housing strategy. The term “public housing” has long been associated with post-WWII social programs centered around housing developments built directly by the government and intended for lower-income members of society. For several decades, the policy has mostly been viewed as a failure, and the term “public housing” has fallen out of fashion. Fast forward to today, and leaders in Montgomery are directing a somewhat stealthy reinvigoration of local government intervention where the housing market has failed.
According to the New York Times,
“We have to get out of the view that certain things are dirty words: ‘Public housing’ is not a dirty word. ‘Developer’ is not a dirty word,” said Andrew Friedson, a member of the Montgomery County Council who championed the new housing fund. “The market on its own is not functioning the way we need it to, and that’s when we want the government to step up.”
Montgomery’s strategy centers around building housing where the market has failed to meet demand. A large portion of market-driven development focuses on meeting the demands of wealthier renters; the incentives for developers are higher, and the returns are much more lucrative. This leaves low and moderate-income renters effectively priced out, which is economically problematic in the long term. Using public-private partnerships (P3s) and a new $100 million housing fund, Montgomery has taken a more active approach in producing housing stock that the county can directly ensure remains affordable. The Laureate is a prime example of this model in action, where the county partnered with private developers to build the structure, but the county retains 70 percent ownership of the building. Unlike public housing developments of the past, these new buildings are intended to blend in with surrounding communities and have the same amenities often offered by private apartment buildings. Many renters often do not realize that their building is, in fact, a county property.
This strategy can provide much relief in one of Maryland’s largest housing markets. That being said, there is still much work to be done in addressing the needs of moderate and low income renters. It isn’t realistic to believe that Montgomery alone can solve this housing crisis, but county leaders are certainly doing their part.