GREENBELT – Survey says… Greenbelt residents rank affordable housing as a top priority, and the city council is taking note. The city council held a work session on Aug. 15 to hear from Mary Kolar, a summer intern with the city through the Maryland Municipal League, about the results of a survey given to residents […]
GREENBELT – Survey says… Greenbelt residents rank affordable housing as a top priority, and the city council is taking note.
The city council held a work session on Aug. 15 to hear from Mary Kolar, a summer intern with the city through the Maryland Municipal League, about the results of a survey given to residents asking about housing affordability in Greenbelt and Kolar’s recommendations stemming from the data collected.
Kolar said the survey was not a random sample of residents, nor was it conducted scientifically, but it provided a snapshot of the city. A total of 331 residents responded to the survey online and in the local newspaper from July 20 through Aug. 7, with 59 percent of those respondents owning a home and 41 percent renting. Three-quarters were female and about a third reported a household income of $50,000-$75,000.
The federal government defines “housing cost burdened” households as those paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. In the Greenbelt survey, 41 percent reported spending between 30 and 50 percent of their income on housing, and another 17.4 percent said they spent more than 50 percent. Furthermore, 14 percent said they were struggling to pay housing costs or were behind on payments. In all, 62.1 percent of respondents said the cost of housing was a serious or moderate concern for them.
Kolar said those who expressed concern about housing costs covered all demographics.
“I think one thing that was really interesting in the survey that came out was that even among folks who didn’t identify themselves as housing-cost burdened or paying an excessive amount of income toward housing costs, they still considered affordable housing a priority of the city,” she said.
Kolar presented the council with three recommendations on how to help address the issue in Greenbelt. The first was to create standards for affordability that proposed development must meet to win council approval. They included a 15 percent set-aside of units priced for lower-income residents in both apartments for rent and homes for sale. Including homes in the set-aside would encourage home ownership, she said.
“In the context of these recommendations, one thing to do with talking about encouraging set-aside ownership development, targeting that to first-time homebuyers is important,” Kolar said.
Kolar proposed having these set-asides in place for 20 years, but said the agreement would not be legally binding. She provided examples of similar Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) programs instituted in Montgomery and Frederick counties and municipalities like Rockville, but noted that municipalities in Prince George’s County don’t have zoning authority to legally enforce those MPDU programs.
Greenbelt Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis said the lack of authority would hinder the city in its efforts to get affordable housing, and suggested discussing the issue with County Councilman Todd Turner.
“All of those entities that you have there have primary zoning authority. The fact that Prince George’s County does not, it seems to me that that’s one path that we could follow, for them to give the authority to municipalities to make decisions,” she said.
Mayor Emmett Jordan said the city should look at what other county municipalities, like Hyattsville and College Park, are doing to get affordable housing now, within current law.
“My sense is that the municipalities, when it comes to public benefit, instead of insisting on affordable housing… they insisted on other… payments and perhaps they did use some of those resources to acquire property that they could just do developments on their own,” he said.
Jordan added he did like the idea of creating standards for developers interested in building in Greenbelt.
“It sort of creates transparency and predictability, so when we’re talking with a builder about something they’d like to do we already have a list of requirements, things we’d like to see,” he said.
Kolar’s second recommendation was for the city to work with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to renew the agency’s contract with the Green Ridge House to subsidize rent for the seniors and people with disabilities. The current 40-year contract is set to expire in March 2019.
Davis expressed some concern that the contract was with HUD, because the outcome of the 2016 presidential election could affect the agency’s funding and ability to continue such programs as the Section 8 vouchers used by Green Ridge.
David Moran, assistant city manager, said the city had already reached out to HUD about the contract and the agency was likely to renew it.
“They seemed very amenable and very open. We are a model for this program. Our facility’s incredibly well, widely regarded,” he said.
The third recommendation was to explore other opportunities for affordable housing, whether through properties like the Maryland National Guard Armory site, through a new HUD project like Green Ridge or other means.
Davis said the city is “both blessed and cursed” in regard to development because it is a desirable area for development, but the developers all seem to want to do luxury (and therefore expensive) projects.
“They’ll come in and say ‘we’ll put in density,’ but usually that’s luxury density,” she said. “Somehow we’re going to have to change the mindset.”
The city council has scheduled another work session on affordable housing to further discuss ideas like the ones presented by Kolar. They also said they would share the survey results and the recommendations with the county council, which this year formed a new subcommittee dealing with housing affordability.