Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

  

Dear Friends,

Access to affordable housing has been one of our county’s biggest challenges for the past 40 years. For too long, our county government has relied on well-intentioned policies that have just not worked. This week, I created an explanatory video presentation of this problem and what we are doing about it in my administration.

You can watch and listen here.

I have spoken out about redevelopment that would produce more housing units but FEWER affordable units. Let me explain what I mean. Most housing projects include only the minimum affordable housing, as required under our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) policy. Often, the redevelopment replaces current naturally occurring affordable housing (known as “NOAH”) with new construction that is a high rise with more units but fewer affordable units than previously there.

Two projects on Battery Lane illustrate the problem with our current policy.

There are 2 buildings that currently have about 560 affordable units, but after redevelopment that will produce more than 1,500 new units, only about 280 units will remain affordable.

The new construction does not increase affordable housing – it reduces the number of affordable housing units! And this is happening throughout the County. That’s at least part of the reason a planning reportprojects that up to 11,000 currently affordable housing units will be lost by 2030.

This is a complicated problem that requires a comprehensive approach to preserve existing affordable housing and produce additional affordable housing. And the county’s land use policies need to support these solutions. Unfortunately, the draft general plan known as Thrive 2050 is flawed and does not adequately deal with affordable housing; you can read more about it here. The Council plans to return to its review of Thrive 2050 in September.

I discuss the housing situation and multiple solutions in the video, but one of the solutions is to develop county-owned properties as soon as possible – I am very excited that we have received more than 130 proposals in response to a request for proposals on 18 such properties that may be suitable for affordable housing.

And we’ve already begun this work – this week, we announced a redevelopment project in Bethesda that will transform current parking lots into housing and parks. It will feature affordable and deeply affordable units, tree-covered walkways, and a parking garage.

This development plan is the result of a negotiation between the County government and developers to ensure this project is being built in accordance with the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan and reflects the desires of this community.

I am excited for projects like this one in Bethesda. It is a model for many other upcoming affordable housing development projects and partnerships using County owned garages and land.

Hate and bigotry have no home here in Montgomery County

This past weekend three churches in Bethesda were targeted by vandals and suspected arsonists. We are saddened and horrified by these actions, which included extensive damage to holy spaces and headstones. Fires were set inside two of the churches and are being investigated as arsons.

Any attack on a building or house of worship in Montgomery County is completely unacceptable. My thoughts are with the leaders and congregants of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic parish, North Bethesda United Methodist Church, and Wildwood Baptist Church during this very difficult and concerning time for the institutions and the families they serve. We have reached out to each of the churches to see if they need any assistance to help them as they recover.

I have also been in touch with our Fire Chief and Police Chief and have asked them to keep me updated on the progress of the investigation because these types of cases are very difficult to solve. Chief Jones said patrol officers will be on high alert around churches in our area moving forward. I continue to encourage anyone with any information to call the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services Arson tip line at 240-777-2263.

Recently, State Senator Susan Lee and I met with met with our local Asian community media and community leaders about concerns they have about hateful incidents. Additionally, I met with leaders of Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Anti-Defamation League to discuss their concerns over anti-Semitic attacks.

I want to thank our County’s Faith Community Advisory group and County Faith Liaison, Kate Chance for their partnership and engagement. I echo their statement that, “Hate and bigotry have no home here in Montgomery County.”

COVID Subvariants lead to rising cases, reminder to pick up free rapid tests at libraries

The nation is in the grips of another surge in COVID cases due to recent variants of the disease that we’ve been monitoring in Montgomery County for a few weeks now.

Maryland joins nearly three-quarters of the nation at medium or high risk of COVID community transmission. A slight dip in case counts seen Monday was gone by Tuesday, leaving our average case rates back up again around 230 cases per 100,000 residents. In Montgomery County, the BA 4 and 5 variants have become the most dominant. They are highly transmissible. They also seem to elude some of the antibodies produced after vaccinations and infections, including those caused by previous subvariants of Omicron. In other words, people who have tested positive as recently as earlier this year can get sick again. Hospitalizations are also up with 133 COVID patients currently in the hospital. It’s the most beds in use for COVID patients since January.

But the vaccinations and boosters (as the strength of the original vaccinations wane) can help reduce the severity.

We should take precautions to protect our families and our community. If you feel sick and think you need a COVID test, seek out a testing center rather than going to a hospital. We continue to offer free rapid tests at libraries across Montgomery County. When we first started distributing in January, over 300,000 tests were picked up weekly, now we are only giving out about 24,000 per week. Most jurisdictions are not delivering tests anymore, but we have been doing this for six months and we haven’t stopped. I encourage our residents to make sure to have tests on hand in their homes, so they are available as needed. If you do test positive, please let the health department know by reporting your case. The information we share about COVID can help keep the community safe.

Also, if you’re eligible for another shot or booster, please get it. The effectiveness of these protections wane and it’s important to follow the guidance for the timing of shots and boosters.

In good news, Montgomery leads the state in vaccines for children between 6 months and 5 years old. Since our clinics for this age group opened, around 6,500 vaccinations have been given out.

“A New Day” in Bethesda

This week we unveiled the latest Paint the Town Project, a mural entitled “A New Day.” It’s the fifth overall project spearheaded by the Bethesda Urban Partnership in collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, the Planning Department, and the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District.

This mural covers the length of a parking garage near Woodmont Avenue. It depicts the artist’s mother as she’s peeking out of her DC-area home. Many have noted how it evokes a sense of looking for better things ahead after so much time in isolation for many of us during the pandemic. We hope you enjoy the efforts that bring public art to our community.

Financial assistance available from County for first-time homebuyers

I want to remind first-time homebuyers that a great way to save on your big purchase is by applying for help through Montgomery County’s down payment assistance programs. The Montgomery Homeownership Program and the Montgomery County Homeownership Assistance Fund Program are two options for help.

We know these are hard financial times for many people and it can be difficult to pull together a down payment for a home even in good times. There are also racial and wealth disparities that can be barriers to homeownership. I am glad we have been able to continue and expand these supportive programs.

Applications will be open until all the money allocated for the program is spent. Prospective homebuyers can borrow up to $25,000 or up to 40 percent of an applicant’s household income. This money is not meant to help someone buy a second home or a mini-mansion. It’s meant to help families looking for moderately priced homes so they can remain in Montgomery County. The money can also be used for closing costs.

For more information or to apply for the Montgomery Homeownership Program, please visit https://mmp.maryland.gov/montgomery/Pages/default.aspx and please visit https://www.hocmc.org/homeownership for information about Montgomery County Homeownership Assistance Fund Program. You can also call 3-1-1 for additional information.

Office of Food System Resilience established as demand for services increase

I want to thank the County Council for passing legislation that I sent over to establish an Office of Food System Resilience. When the pandemic highlighted some of the great need in our community, we were able to organize a large and effective system to get food and other necessities out to people. We worked with over 100 food assistance providers large and small to reach people all over the county.

It worked well, but we knew we needed a more strategic approach that addresses both short-term and longer-term issues, including a focus on our food systems. In just the last two months, close to 75% of food providers we work with report a slight or significant increase in demand. Organization leaders say that gas prices and the rise in grocery costs led to that spike.

As a former teacher I’ve seen the impact that hunger can have on a child. Watching bags of groceries disappear from the dinner table because of inflation and other economic hardships has far-reaching impacts on the community. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the work we’ve already seen come together to address this crisis.

Establishing an Office of Food System Resilience can help on so many fronts – from organizing resources to tracking how big the problem is to utilizing a network of local growers. If we can show farmers that table crops will be put to good use here in Montgomery County, we can get those products from the farms to our dinner tables. Ultimately, I’d like to see Montgomery County Public Schools benefit from this program as well. Let’s develop something that gives students the best chance to excel in school.

I am looking forward to our work to end hunger in our community and provide increased local food resilience.

Improving Early Care and Education in Montgomery County

And I want to thank the County Council for their partnership in the establishment of our Early Care and Education Coordinating Entity – a public/private non-profit formed to support our efforts to enhance the education and care of young children.

Early Care and Education has and continues to be a high priority for me and my administration. I established the Early Care and Education Initiative early in my administration with the goal of increasing access, affordability, and sustainability in this critically important stage of life.

Through the Initiative we created over 1,200 new seats in childcare and PreK programs, recruited over 60 new providers, and increased the income eligibility for our Working Parents Assistance, giving more families access to financial support towards the care of their young children.

COVID had a devastating impact on providers who attempted to keep their doors open while enrollment decreased. Parents struggled as well — torn between the health & safety of their families and their work responsibilities. Throughout the pandemic my administration responded by providing over $10 million to help families meet their financial responsibilities and PPE supplies for those able to continue services.

My FY23 budget includes $20 million towards these efforts. Families need safe and high-quality learning environments for their children while parents are at work.

This entity I hope will also play a critical role in lifting the voices of parents to ensure that the care and education of our youngest residents remain a foremost priority.

Novavax clears another hurdle

In Gaithersburg, the biotechnology company Novavax has just been granted Emergency Use Authorization for its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine for adults.

The decision from the FDA gives those seeking a vaccine a fourth option in the U.S. According to company leaders, the development of this vaccine fills a critical need in the country to offer another option for those who remain unvaccinated and at an elevated risk of suffering serious or deadly consequences from COVID. We congratulate Novavax.

Stay safe from the storms this summer

Finally, several severe storms created damage to homes this week in many neighborhoods, especially Olney. With climate change, we are seeing more violent and destructive weather month after month.

I encourage you to sign up for County weather and emergency alerts. The Alert Montgomery System provides accurate and immediate emergency notifications from Montgomery County to your cell, work, or home phones via text, email, or voice message.

Every second counts when dealing with weather emergencies. Please visit our website or search Alert Montgomery to sign up.

As always, my appreciation for all of you.

Marc Elrich
County Executive

 

P.S. If you haven’t voted yet, be sure to vote on Tuesday, July 19 – if you don’t know your polling location, you can look it up at https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/votersearch.
Also, if you requested a mail-in ballot and have not yet received it, you can go to your regular voting location on Tuesday, explain that you did not receive your mail-in ballot and vote in person using a provisional ballot. You could also go to the Board of Elections and explain that you did not receive your mail-in ballot and they will help you there.

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