More opportunities for affordable housing alongside capital projects like libraries, firehouses and police stations took a step forward, thanks to a bill approved by the County Council’s new Planning, Housing and Parks committee on Monday.
County Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), who is also chair of the committee, is lead sponsor of the bill. It would require the county’s Department of General Services to conduct the feasibility of so-called “co-location” of affordable housing in capital projects, before a full program of requirements and specifics of the project is finished.
According to the bill, the study would consist of a description of a capital project, any specific requirements, environmental or site limitations, project cost (if available), costs of co-locating affordable housing, a finding of whether housing is feasible, and other considerations.
County Council members Will Jawando (D-At-large) and Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6), approved the bill alongside Friedson on Monday. David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services, said in an interview that he’s supportive of the legislation.
The committee approved amendments to the bill Monday that allow the Department of General Services to start drafting a program of requirements and look at site selection and land acquisition—but the feasibility study must be submitted to the County Council before any of those are completed.
Affordable housing advocates, including Greater Greater Washington, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Montgomery Housing Alliance and Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County support the bill.
Dise said there is no impact of the bill on internal processes for capital projects because his department is already doing the analysis. The legislation requires his department to report sooner to the council on the feasibility of co-locating housing, he said.
Dise added that one impact the bill could have, if passed, is that council members might want to look at different types of housing than is proposed—switching from townhouses to a high-rise building, for example.
In an interview, Friedson said those conversations should be welcomed, as county officials need to explore all types of affordable housing to address residents’ needs.
Friedson, now in his second term, said his interest in introducing the bill stems back to early in his first term, when council members were told that co-location of affordable housing wasn’t possible with the White Flint Fire Station, a capital project near North Bethesda. Friedson couldn’t understand why that occurred, given the redevelopment of the area and need for housing.
“Is the reason why we don’t do co-locations [of housing] at certain sites because it could potentially delay a project, or because it could potentially cost more money or add additional complications—is that reason enough not to co-locate housing?” Friedson said. “Because that’s really the threshold question here.”
The legislation is aimed at prompting discussions about whether county land and capital projects can handle the cost and additional impacts of affordable housing, Friedson said.
Friedson’s bill now heads to the full County Council for review in the coming weeks.