Montgomery County's poverty rates are . Last year, 74,701 residents, almost 8 percent of the population, lived in poverty. Across the county, median incomes have fallen 7.5 percent since 2007, from $96,422 to $89,155.
These trends follow national demographic changes. From 2000 to 2008, poverty in the suburbs grew the fastest, with suburban growth rates averaging five times as high as major cities, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute.
"Our planning board has been pushing for more mixed housing," said Valerie Berton, a spokeswoman for . "We recognize that our community is changing, and the more options we can give people in terms of different housing types, the more we can help folks with different income levels."
Talking about future development plans, Berton articulated a vision that is significantly different than past design.
"Montgomery County doesn't have very much land to develop anymore, so that model of single-family homes on large lots isn’t so much our future as our past," Berton said. "People who live in Montgomery County neighborhoods love them … and many of our proposals preserve those areas … but we only have 4 percent of our land left to develop. So this kind of building no longer makes sense."
In the future, the housing norm may look more like apartments such as the recent complex in Bethesda, which combines residential units with a Whole Foods, gym and clothing stores below. Recently, the approved a new type of commercial residential zone that will give developers a range of options to mix commercial with residential.
Adapting to resident's changing needs
Montgomery County planners have long-recognized needs of lower-income residents. In the 1970s, lobbied by fair housing advocacy groups, the county council introduced a local legislation that made it mandatory for developers building properties with 50 units, to make 15 percent available to moderate-income households. The county's has the right to purchase 3 percent for low-income housing programs. In exchange, the city allowed developers to build more units in their area.
For decades, this policy has enabled thousands of low-mid income families to live within the county. But the program’s success depends on a robust housing market, and affordably priced units are decreasing by 80 units a year as after a certain number of years, affordably priced units can be sold at ‘normal’ market rates.
While other programs also provide housing to low-income residents, (the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission estimates they maintain more than 20,000 units in Montgomery County that cater to low-income residents), a growing number of families are on waitlists for these affordably priced homes. Despite county planner’s progressive and innovative approach, if they hope to continue meeting community needs, the county's increasing number of low-income residents will need more options.