Weekly Message From Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich: “Rent Stabilization Bill is a Big Win For Affordable Housing”

“Dear Friends,

Tuesday was a historic day when the County Council passed the Rent Stabilization Bill. This important bill will cap yearly rent increases inflation plus 3 percent, up to 6 percent. I am looking forward to signing this bill into law as soon as it reaches my desk so we can start helping renters without delay.

This is a victory for the 35 percent of Montgomery County residents who rent and it helps bring stability to our entire community. It brings much-needed certainty and clarity for both tenants and landlords and ensures a fair return for property owners.

I have been involved in this issue going back to my days in the mid-1980s on the Takoma Park City Council. I have seen firsthand that meaningful rent stabilization can make a real difference in people’s lives. Stable housing costs provide security for families and eliminate the fear of unreasonable rent increases forcing them out of their homes.

From a school and learning perspective, stable rents allow people to remain in communities and reduces student mobility.

Most of us are homeowners. Imagine what it would be like if we faced uncertainty every year over whether the mortgage on our house might increase based on the whim of a bank and leave us unable to stay there? Stability in housing is important for everyone, whether you rent or own.

This bill is an important step forward, but I do want to note that this bill was definitely a compromise. While it caps annual increases at 6 percent, it allows the increases to automatically go up to 6 percent even if inflation is only 3 percent.

For more than 30 years, the County’s Voluntary Rent Guideline was tied to inflation—a common sense notion that landlords should be able have their rents keep pace with rising costs. This bill unfortunately breaks that link.

If landlords were to take full advantage of the law and raise rent by the full 6 percent every year, it would especially burden the large number of lower income households that call Montgomery County home. They would have a hard time keeping pace since their wages rarely, if ever, increase at a pace of 6 percent per year.

We will closely monitor the impact of this forthcoming law. I hope, given that rent increases have averaged 3 percentor less for most of the last 30 years with no rent stabilization in place, that the previous pattern will remain the rule, not the exception.

The bill also includes a 23-year rolling exemption for new buildings, which is well beyond the typical 15 years.

As you can see from this chart, about 30 percent of renters are in units that were built since 2000.  That leaves them unprotected from potentially unsustainable rent hikes.

Some believe we should address affordable housing challenges through our existing affordable housing program: Moderately Priced Dwelling Units or MPDUs. But there are only 6,700 MPDU units in our entire County. In a County this large, that is only a small amount and cannot be effective on its own. For example, almost 50,000 households earn less than $50,000 per year. Most are not even eligible for an MPDU and typically spend half or more of their incomes on rent.

The bill protects landlords in multiple ways, including a fair return process that allows rent increases above the automatic amount if needed to cover costs and maintain profitability.

The bill also includes a separate provision to allow increases for capital investments. This allows building owners to get rent increases for major repairs so that they can maintain their net operating income percentage—again maintaining their profitability.  The law will not take effect until after the regulations are written and approved by the County Council.

Overall, I am very pleased that this bill passed because I believe it will help protect the long-term affordability of housing in this County.

This success is the result of the collective effort of Councilmembers, advocates, our housing staff and community members. I want to extend my gratitude to the advocates, activists, and renters of Montgomery County who tirelessly pushed for this legislation.

I also want to specifically acknowledge Scott Bruton, the new director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. He did an outstanding job explaining, working with, educating and addressing the Councilmembers’ concerns. I also want to thank my housing team in all our efforts to produce, preserve and protect affordable housing.

Let’s continue working together to make Montgomery County a place where affordable housing is accessible to all, and our communities thrive.

‘Montgomery Connects’ Launches New Computer Giveaway

Households earning less than $50,000 per year account for 21 percent of our population, but comprise 60 percent of County households without computers. This is a concerning statistic.

Having a computer is not a luxury anymore. It is a necessity. While schools may provide access to computers for children, every household should have its own computer for learning, working and staying connected.

I am pleased and grateful for the State funding we secured through the Maryland Connected Devices program to help 34,000 low-income families with much-needed access to computers.

Households are eligible by either receiving certain benefits or by income level. Chromebook laptops are available to families enrolled in a benefit program like SNAP food benefits, Medicaid, free school lunch, WIC or SSI. Families benefiting from Pell Grants, Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance also are eligible. Anyone enrolled in Affordable Connectivity or Lifeline internet or telephone discount programs qualify.

Households earning less than 200 percent of the Federal poverty rate also are eligible. A family of four earning less than $60,000 per year would qualify.

To learn more about eligibility and scheduling an appointment, visit the website.

By providing access to technology, we empower everyone to thrive in today’s digital age.

Purple Line Update

We learned late last week that the Purple Line project is beset by more delays and increased costs. The 16.2-mile rail line broke ground in 2016. It was originally scheduled to begin operations in March of 2022. It is now scheduled to open in 2027.

This is not good news. But it is not surprising. This public-private partnership deal has been a “poster child” for how not to do a major transportation project.

From the beginning of this process, I have been clear about the perils of engaging in a poorly conceived and constructed public-private partnership. Taxpayers and transit riders will continue to pay for the mismanagement of the Hogan Administration. We deserved better.

Governor Wes Moore inherited this difficult situation, and I appreciate the leadership and transparency from him and Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld as they work to further public transit.

Farm Tour & Harvest Sale Returns

We have a special event this weekend, that celebrates our connection to the land and the farmers who cultivate it. The annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 22-23, across 21 farms. Here is a digital brochure that gives a brief description of participating farms and when you can visit.

This event is a good opportunity to engage with our local community, support our farmers and experience the joy of fresh, locally grown food. Come out and shop local, savor the taste of farm-fresh produce and witness the beauty of these working farms that are part of our cherished Agricultural Reserve. You will have the chance to get up close with farm animals and learn about the intricacies of farming.

These tours are self-guided and driving-based, allowing you to create your own unique experience. Most participating locations and events are free to attend, offering a wonderful chance for all members of our community to partake in this agricultural celebration. Some sites or activities may request a small fee for specific experiences like fruit or flower picking. Additionally, there will be products, food and drinks available for purchase at the farm tour locations.

Nearly one-third of our County’s land is dedicated to agricultural use. We take immense pride in preserving this land for farming, making us the nation’s leader in farmland preservation. With 558 farms and 350 horticultural businesses flourishing in our County, the economic impact of farming is substantial, contributing $282 million annually.

Our community is fortunate to have one of the most vibrant farming and craft beverage industries right in our backyard. The Farm Tour offers a unique chance to explore and appreciate the beauty of this essential aspect of our identity.

Passing of Former Montgomery County Attorney Marc Hansen

It is with a heavy heart that we remember the life of former County Attorney Marc Hansen, who passed away last weekend.

Marc retired last year after 37 years in the Office of County Attorney, serving his last 12 as the county attorney. He is the longest-serving county attorney in our history.

Throughout his career, Marc provided advice and guidance to many leaders including County Executives, County Councilmembers and thousands of colleagues. Many, in and out of County Government and throughout our legal community, are saddened by this loss.

Our hearts go out to Marc Hansen’s family, friends and colleagues.

Community Health Update 

COVID-19 remains a low community threat, and for the first time since the pandemic began, the total number of Americans dying each day is no longer above historical averages. The number referred to nationally as excess deaths had been elevated since 2020, a sign of the grip that the pandemic had on us nationwide that now seems like a true era with a beginning and an end.

There will be a new booster shot available this fall that scientists are working on now, but it will likely not be a bivalent booster, meaning the original strain of the virus will not be used in the next vaccine or booster shot.

Please continue to visit the County’s website to learn more about COVID resources, testing and vaccines available through the County.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,
Marc Elrich

County Executive”

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