Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Redevelopment that preserves affordable housing

Dear resident,

You have driven Veirs Mill Road. Coursing through densely-populated suburban communities, the highway’s rough edges have resulted in tragic crashes far too often.

But housing in the corridor – from Twinbrook apartment complexes to single family home neighborhoods – is more affordable than other areas of the County, providing a valuable foothold for many families.

With a new Bus Rapid Transit line planned for Veirs Mill Road and ongoing concerns about traffic safety, the Council set out to chart a new vision for the future through the “Veirs Mill Corridor Sector Plan.” Our goal: to improve road safety and transportation options while strengthening an affordable housing resource for the future.

No Net Loss of Affordable Housing
Twinbrook Parkway hosts several older garden apartment complexes between Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill. Constructed before the County began requiring developers to build regulated affordable housing (MPDUs), these units are relatively affordable due to their age and location, but the rents could change based on market conditions in the future. The complexes are also aging and need reinvestment. Substantial renovations could result in higher rents or, if the owners do not invest in the buildings, disrepair.

To incentivize redevelopment that protects affordable housing and the communities living there today, I worked with my colleagues to produce a “no-net loss” housing policy for the plan.

The idea of no-net loss is to allow reasonable redevelopment of existing apartment buildings, while ensuring that each property produces the maximum affordable housing possible, and that overall there will be at least as much affordable housing in the future as there is today.

In Veirs Mill, this vision can be accomplished through a public-private partnership, where property owners are allowed to use density and height provided in the plan to add new housing in exchange for providing housing into our regulated programs that can guarantee affordability. The plan would replace all of the existing market rate affordable units with regulated affordable units over time. When the properties are combined, here is out it works out:

Existing Proposed
Housing units: 924 Housing units: 3,238
Regulated affordable units: 91 Regulated affordable units: 1,185

As you can see, using redevelopment as a tool, the plan would generate new housing in set-aside affordable programs as well as new market-rate housing in a part of the county that is, at least for the foreseeable future, relatively affordable. It’s a win-win.

Keep in mind though that this is a decades-long vision for the area, and it won’t happen quickly. To address infrastructure needs, the plan accounts for the student and transportation impacts and identifies how those needs can be met.

Making safety the priority
Vision Zero is a commitment the County has made to get to zero traffic deaths. The Veirs Mill Plan is our first master plan focused on Vision Zero transportation solutions. The plan recommends measures that prioritize the safety of all users, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

The long-term vision for Veirs Mill Rd is recreating it as a multimodal corridor with protected bicycle lanes, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, a new interchange at Veirs Mill Rd and Randolph Rd. that is improves safety multimodally, safer speed limits, and a bridge for the Matthew Henson Trail crossing where two people have been killed in recent years.

There is also a consensus on the Council that we should act quickly to address known safety risks. The urgency is great as even during our Council’s Tuesday deliberation a pedestrian was struck on Veirs Mill Rd.

Our list of short-term improvements include:

  • Build continuous sidewalks – specifically the segments between the Wheaton CBD and Connecticut Ave
  • Build or mark continuous bike facilities – especially where connectivity to trails and transit can be improved
  • Implement school zone speed limits
  • Install signalized crossings at Norris Drive and Andrew St.
  • Install a red light camera at Newport Mill
  • Change the speed limit to 35 mph along the whole length between Wheaton and Twinbrook Pkwy, except between Havard and Bushey, where it should be changed to 25 mph

Working with a sense of urgency and with our partners in the executive branch and the state, we can achieve lasting improvements that prevent needless injury and death. The Veirs Mill Plan’s innovative approach to Vision Zero helps us get there.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Do our kids have a place to live here?

Dear resident,

For most of us, housing is our biggest expense — by far — and the rising cost of housing has created an affordability crunch that works against our community’s inclusive vision.

Millennials and young families seeking a starter home, retirees looking to age near their kids, immigrant families trying to gain a foothold; they are all swimming against the current of our regional economy and our housing market.

As Chair of the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, I am committed to working on real solutions, not just talking about the problem. I want to share a few of those solutions with you.

Creating new housing that is affordable

The Committee has met for several weeks to consider the future of the Veirs Mill Road corridor. In addition to working hard on road safety issues, we grappled with the challenge of how to push developers to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

The larger garden-style apartment complexes in the area are a critical housing resource for moderate-income families, and have been for decades. The complexes need modernization though and they are in a transit-served location (walkable to both Twinbrook Metro and future Veirs Mill BRT). More housing here meets our climate protection goals, but we don’t want to lose an affordable housing resource.

The solution that I proposed, in collaboration with Councilmember Friedson and Council President Navarro, was a “no net loss” housing redevelopment strategy. The idea is straightforward. The new housing will have two components: 1) new market rate housing 2) as many units provided to the County’s regulated affordable programs as the current development has today.

Although the existing units are affordable because they are older, they are not regulated for price protection and could be renovated and leased at much higher rents at any time. To incentivize the property owner to redevelop–and thus lock in new price regulated units–our solution provides sufficient density to make the project profitable, enabling them to get loans to finance the redevelopment.

I hope that the full Council will support our vision and that this plan will be a win for our ongoing efforts to promote affordable housing through smart redevelopment and public private partnership.

I have also introduced legislation to strengthen a tax credit for new development that provides 25% or more of its units to our affordable housing programs — which is already getting results with new affordable housing expected in downtown Bethesda among other locations.

Basement apartments and backyard cottages

One housing trend that is really working against both young adults and retirees is the rising cost of single-family housing. Particularly in areas that are a reasonable commute to urban centers, the supply of single-family homes is fixed but the demand keeps growing, resulting in higher values and taxes.

One solution that is increasingly popular is the basement apartment or the backyard cottage. Backyard cottages are a great way to create a separate living quarter that provides independence, but at the same time proximity and family togetherness, if used by family or friends.

Today our zoning code does not allow a backyard cottage on a property smaller than one acre, which pretty much excludes everyone. Basement apartments are limited to roughly one per block, on only one side of the street (there is a 300 foot distance requirement).

As I have written about in previous emails, I have proposed a zoning amendment – ZTA 19-01 – to ease certain prohibitions on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). I recognize that the proposal is controversial, and many people have asked about the potential impact on our schools. The Planning Department has reviewed school enrollment at all of the existing ADUs in the County and determined that properties with an ADU generate slightly fewer public school students than properties without an ADU. Therefore, there is no distinct impact from ADU’s.

My proposal also retains many important restrictions, including a requirement for owner occupation (meaning both units can’t be a rental), a prohibition on additional room rentals on the property (meaning the properties can’t be crowded with multiple tenants as some single family houses may become), and a prohibition on short-term rental (no Airbnb) for both the main house and the ADU.

The Housing Committee will take the issue up next Monday, March 18.

Why this matters

Housing affordability has a major influence on a community’s economic development. Companies want to locate or expand where they know they can find the workforce they need — which is about the education and skills of the workforce but also if that workforce can afford to live there.

We have the talent to support job growth in many economic sectors, but for how long? How many of our children will be able to live here, or will choose to live here when they can spend less to live somewhere that is also desirable?

That’s a big challenge, and we have to think differently about how to meet it.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Update — thinking creatively about the housing shortage

Dear Resident,

Tuesday evening is the Public Hearing on a zoning change (ZTA 19-01) that I have introduced to make it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), such as backyard cottages (aka “tiny houses”), basement apartments, and garage conversions.

These units have always been allowed in theory, but until 2012 they required an onerous and expensive approval process. In 2012 the Council tried to streamline that process, but added new restrictions that we have seen make it impossible to add an ADU on many properties. For example, only property owners with one acre can add a backyard cottage.

The result has been that production of ADUs has barely risen, and there are only 468 legal ADUs in a County of more than 1 million residents.

Montgomery County is facing a housing shortage and an affordability crunch. The two are tied together as the cost of housing is the primary driver of a community’s affordability. As we look to the future, I believe we must think differently and find new and creative approaches to the problem.

ADUs are an important housing solution. They can provide housing for different generations of a family to live together but with a measured independence. As we have heard from many residents, ADUs can enable grandparents to live near their children; or adult children, including those with special needs, to live near their parents.

ADUs can also provide an additional income for the property owner, improving affordability for retirees or young families. Because the units are generally small, they can provide affordable rental units in areas that have become prohibitively expensive.

And because ADUs are dispersed, they provide desperately needed additional housing supply without the concentrated impacts on schools, traffic, and the environment that large new housing developments might have.

Specifically, an ADU is a seperate dwelling unit that is on the same lot as a single family home. It has its own entrance, full kitchen, and bathroom. Providing an ADU is different from renting a room in a house. The tenant in an ADU does not have access to the rest of the home.

While the proposal removes many restrictions, there are nevertheless a wide array of protections that remain. For example, the units could not be used for short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb) and the total combined structure cannot be bigger than what the code already allows for a single family house. An ADU can only be rented, it cannot be subdivided and sold as two units. The property must be owner occupied. There are more.

You can watch the 7:30pm hearing on livestream here, and the Council will accept written comments up until the final vote. In the weeks after the Public Hearing, the Council’s Planning Committee, which I chair, will hold worksessions to consider amendments and send a recommendation to the full Council.

You can send written testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. #mocotinyhouse

More Metro in Montgomery County
Metro could provide MUCH more service in Montgomery County. Metro could run all 8 car trains rather than 6 car trains. Metro could eliminate the turn back on the Glenmont side, as it has (finally!) done on the Shady Grove side. And Metro could reduce headways (meaning running trains more frequently), including on the weekends when ridership has dropped severely. Several years ago, I successfully pushed for the County to include these rider-friendly improvements in our transportation priorities letter to the Governor, which is how we express our request to the State and in turn to Metro. Momentum for these changes has increased as Metro now has a long term capital funding source and the community of advocates has grown stronger. While the Capital funding is huge, these next improvements are largely operating budget expenditures, where Metro has constraints. The good news is that General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has included many of these improvements in his proposed budget, but it is ultimately up to Maryland to fund the new service and the Metro Board to approve it. Time to speak out! #8cartrains #endtheturnbacks

The Lynching of George Peck in 1880
As you know, I have worked with my colleagues to create a Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation about our history of racial injustice and directions for the future. As part of my learning about our history, I joined local historian Anthony Cohen at an event in Poolesville as he spoke about the long-overlooked story of the 1880 lynching of George Peck, a local laborer accused of assaulting a young white girl. Here is a video about the presentation where Tony examined the details of Peck’s arrest, abduction and murder.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Correction: This post has been corrected to show that the County has 468 legal ADUs. A previous version had the number at 133.

Winter storm resources and affordable housing

Dear Resident,

The National Weather Service is forecasting an overnight accumulation of 4-6 inches of snow for Montgomery County. Crews have already begun pretreating roads with salt or a salt brine mixture and will begin plowing once 3 inches have fallen. They will begin plowing emergency routes and primary and arterial roads first and then move on to residential roads (the State will separately do state highways). Please be patient; but also please make us aware of a gap in service. Visit the Montgomery County Snow Portal to learn more, to check the snow removal status of your street, and to file a snow service request with the County or State.

Affordable Housing
Housing affordability is one of our County’s greatest challenges. We have a housing shortage, which drives up sale and rental prices and creates affordability problems particularly for those with moderate or low incomes.

With this in mind, last year I authored legislation that raises the requirement for affordable units in the County’s most expensive areas. The Council supported my plan and now we are already getting results in
Bethesda, White Flint, and Rock Spring. Read the Council staff report and news coverage of the legislation.

15% of new housing must be affordable Infographic

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large