As I explained in my last post, Montgomery County’s continued population growth (even if this growth is slow in relative terms) coupled with constrained wages and housing supply, means that housing affordability becomes a bigger problem. This chart show the proportion of renters and homeowners with a mortgage who pay at least 35 percent of their income on housing costs:
The lack of affordable housing hurts the poor more than anyone else, but our high housing costs also hurt middle and even upper income residents. As for the impact on economic development and jobs, we risk driving away highly-skilled workers who have choices about where to live and work. Eventually, if we begin losing residents to lower-cost areas where jobs are available, then we also become less attractive to employers, resulting in a vicious cycle.
Research shows that residents across the age spectrum value neighborhoods that provide amenities such as parks and retail options within walking distance, and many want access to transit. These preferences are reflected in higher housing costs, further exacerbating the affordability problem in the county’s urbanized areas.
So, while there may yet be unbuilt supply in the “pipeline,” the greatest demand for housing is in mixed-use, transit-served neighborhoods with easy access to services and amenities.
Fortunately, Montgomery County’s planning priorities have been encouraging housing growth in areas like Bethesda, White Flint, downtown Silver Spring and White Oak, and we are also investing in transit projects like the Purple Line and bus rapid transit (BRT). Creating new transit hubs gives us more opportunities to build additional housing in desirable areas and connect more neighborhoods to jobs and services that support a high quality of life.
By increasing the supply of transit-served neighborhoods, we can in turn reduce some of the demand pressure on existing hubs, thus minimizing the potential for displacement due to rising housing costs. In addition, our county’s moderately priced dwelling unit (MPDU) program – which is a national model of inclusionary zoning – helps to add affordable units as we grow.
Going forward, we may want to take additional steps such as simplifying the process for adding accessory dwelling units and rethink some zoning rules to permit a more diverse array of housing options. Ultimately, though, no amount of regulation or public subsidies can fill the gap, so addressing affordability means that we will need more market-rate housing at every price level.
In a future post I’ll have more to say about the relationship between the quality and affordability of housing choices and economic development, i.e., jobs. For now, it’s enough to say that the availability of better housing options across a range of incomes can help make us more attractive to employers, who have an easier time attracting and retaining the best employees in a place that not only supports a high quality of life but is economically accessible to a wide variety of people.