Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2006

Affordable Housing Myth vs. Reality

Montgomery County Civic Federation Challenges Department of Housing and Community Affairs on Moderately Priced Dwelling Units

By Jim Humphrey

I am sure you have heard it said that the affordable housing programs in Montgomery County are a national model.  Our elected officials have repeatedly told us so.  County Executive Doug Duncan even received a Council of Governments award in December praising the county’s efforts.  It must be true then, right?  If only repetition of the statement made it so.

The dirty little secret is that the Duncan administration has done a miserable job of implementing our affordable housing programs, particularly the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program.

MPDU Program Mismanaged

Established in 1974, the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program is intended to benefit households earning up to 65 percent of Area Media Income.  Administered by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA), the program now requires that 12.5 percent of all housing in projects 20 units or larger be provided at reduced price.

The MCCF Housing Committee studied implementation of the MPDU Program from 1995 through 2004.  An average of 300 MPDUs each year were required to be provided.  However, the law allows developers to “buy out” of their MPDU requirements by making a one-time payment to the Housing Initiative Fund sufficient to provide significantly more MPDUs in the same general area of the county.  Developers bought out one-sixth of all the MPDUs required during the ten-year study period.  But, with buyout payments averaging $16,591 per unit, it is no wonder that no MPDUs have ever been provided to replace the 470 that were bought out during this time.  After the MCCF made public the ridiculously low price for MPDU buyouts, DHCA upped the charge and the most recent buyout allowed was set at $100,000 per unit.

Developers Violate Agreements

By law, MPDUs must be built at the same time or before market rate units in a project.  Last summer MCCF uncovered several projects in which developers failed to provide a total of 131 MPDUs.  These are included in the Site Plan Enforcement Study available on our website, at  So, of 3,010 MPDUs required over 10 years, 470 were bought out and five percent of the remaining units have not been provided.  Some examples:

In addition, the developer of Layhill Village East, Magruder Reed, failed to begin construction on all MPDUs in that project by September 30 as required, but DHCA has taken no action.  When asked in a recent Council work session whether MPDU construction had begun on this project, DHCA Director Elizabeth Davison stated she had no idea since she does not have enough staff to conduct field investigations.

Ineptitude or Cover-Up?

MCCF requested DHCA Director Davison explain her department’s failure to implement MPDU laws, but has received no reply.  When asked why she has not levied fines on developers who fail to provide required MPDUs, she replied to a Gazette reporter that “fining people isn’t going to get those (units) built.” Assessing fines for violations, which in the case of Kings Crossing would exceed $1.5 million to date, would send a message to the development industry that our MPDU laws must be obeyed.  And the money could be put to good use, perhaps toward buying rental apartments at risk of condo conversion to keep them in the affordable housing stock.

We urge DHCA to issue a report on the MPDU program to answer questions on its implementation.  How many applicants are there at present?  What marketing of the program has been done?  How many units that come up for resale are offered to applicants, and how many are bought by HOC and converted to rental units?  Why hasn’t DHCA informed Permitting Services of MPDU Agreements, as required by law prior to issuing of building permits for housing projects?  What size staff would be appropriate to properly administer the MPDU program?

We also urge the Council as our citizen representatives to do a better job of oversight.  The Committee has fallen down on its job of insuring that affordable housing laws are properly implemented.

Before our elected officials again claim the MPDU Program as a national model, they should make sure it qualifies.  In the meantime, perhaps Mr. Duncan would like to share his Council of Governments award with the groups that truly deserve it — Community Ministries, Action in Montgomery, and the Interfaith Housing Coalition — groups that have been striving for years to provide affordable housing to those most in need in our county.  They have earned our praise.

[Humphrey chairs the Planning and Land Use Committee at the Montgomery County Civic Federation.  This article was truncated in the printed NFCCA newsletter.]   ■

   © 2006 NFCCA  [Source:]