Twenty high school students marched to Montgomery County government headquarters Wednesday afternoon to hand-deliver a letter to county officials requesting increased social housing and tenant protections.
Students gathered in downtown Rockville’s Veterans Plaza at 1:30 p.m. Police blocked the road as they marched up Jefferson Street carrying handmade signs reading “rent stabilization now” and “housing is a human right.” They dropped off copies of the letter to County Executive Marc Elrich and newly elected Council President Evan Glass.
The students intern with the Montgomery County Green New Deal for Social Housing, an emerging alliance of local social justice and climate change advocacy groups pushing for more climate-friendly social housing. The coalition receives funding from the Climate Emergency Fund, the biggest national funder of climate change activism.
“The reality is young people in Montgomery County are really concerned about the climate crisis, and they’re angry,” organizer James Driscoll said. “We’re leaving them a world in crisis.”
County Council member Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) met students in Veterans Plaza and thanked them for using their half day off school for advocacy. She assured students County Executive Marc Elrich supported their message and urged them to keep up “this kind of visible pressure,” adding that she speaks daily with constituents facing eviction and housing uncertainty.
Driscoll, an outspoken climate change activist for over 10 years, said the community has grown increasingly frustrated with the county’s lack of action ever since the County Council declared a climate emergency in 2017.
Driscoll described social housing as a movement to build new mixed-income housing that emits no greenhouse gas and is strategically built near public transit. He called it a positive solution to dealing with the nation’s current housing crisis. Although the county previously approved funding for the creation of social housing, Driscoll said the funds need to be scaled up to meet demand.
Student interns with the coalition meet via Zoom every Monday, according to intern Lily Hong from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. She said guest speakers share information on a variety of issues beyond climate change, including racial justice and housing insecurity.
Intern Madison Watts from Rockville High School said the internship program is “very work-oriented,” with students frequently testifying before county officials and canvassing in low-income communities. Last month, Watts and classmate Sophie Nguyen testified before the D.C. District Council in support of social housing.
The students’ letter to the county executive ends with a plea.
“We hope to hear from you before Dec. 15, 2022 regarding your response to our urgent requests for emergency rent stabilization and investments in social housing.”
With budget development underway, Elrich is currently holding a series of public meetings in neighborhoods across the county to gather community feedback on the budget. Driscoll said the coalition plans to attend these forums and will also meet with County Council members to petition for the allocation of increased funds for social housing.
The next budget forum will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at White Oak’s recreation center. A livestream web link will be provided.