Six of the seven county executive (CE) candidates met at a forum on May 30 sponsored by Action in Montgomery (AIM), one of many similar campaign events.
Action in Montgomery is a broad-based community power organization, rooted in county neighborhoods and congregations. The organization, with several Gaithersburg-area members, is non-partisan, multi-faith, multi-racial, and “dedicated to making our county and state a better place to live and thrive.”
Forum organizers asked candidates questions on three areas including affordable housing and transit. With well over a thousand people in attendance, it was the largest crowd to attend a CE primary candidate event in the 2018 campaign.
An AIM agenda goal for 2018-2022 is to increase affordable housing by building higher density near transit hubs; by putting increasing affordable housing on land owned by Montgomery County and Metro; and by increasing the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF—a locally-funded housing trust fund) from $64 million to $100 million/year over four years.
Five of six individuals running for the CE Democratic nomination and Robin Ficker, running unopposed for the Republican nomination, participated. Candidate Bill Frick (D) was absent.
All candidates said they would work with AIM to achieve stated 2018-2022 affordable housing goals.
The candidates’ edited responses to the housing initiative question are given in the order they were asked to respond.
Rose Krasnow, an urban and regional planner and the former mayor of Rockville, said, “We are a very liberal county. Many people talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Clearly you do. I know that maintaining and preserving and growing our affordable housing stock has to be a team effort combining the public sector, nonprofits, our religious community and business. We must all work together. To get the funding we need and the programmatic support, will involve not just the local level but the state and federal level as well. When I am your CE, I commit to increasing the money that will go into the HIF from the current 2.5 percent to 3 percent. I would do this through legislation.”
David Blair is an entrepreneur and the founder and former CEO of Catalyst Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits management company, which became a Fortune 500 company that he ultimately sold.
“We have an affordable housing crisis and it has been going on for 15 years and we have not been acting like it’s a crisis. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to start acting like we do have a crisis, so, yes, I will absolutely push to increase our HIF to $100 million.
“But there is so much more we can do. In Montgomery County we have valuable land. A lot of it … is around the new metro stops, (and around) the new Purple Line. I was with some planners yesterday, talking. By the Lyttonsville (Purple Line, Silver Spring) Station alone, we can add a net 366 affordable houses. We have got to be working to create new neighborhoods with fully integrated, mixed incomes.”
Now in his third term, Marc Elrich has served as an at-large county council member since 2006. Before his service on the council, Elrich taught in Montgomery County Public Schools for 17 years. “Yes to increasing HIF to $100 million and yes to working with AIM. … We’ve been working (with AIM on) affordable housing for a long time.
“I want to give you what I think are the scariest stats in the county. There are 22,000 people whose incomes are under 30 percent of the area median income. Basically under $30,000. Those 22,000 people are spending 60 percent of their income to live. And if you start with $30,000 you don’t have much left over.
“Our housing programs, our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) programs focus on people making 55 to 80 percent of median income. We need to refocus our housing programs on the people most in need, who aren’t being served by housing programs today. We need to think about more home ownership.”
Republican Robin Ficker is an attorney and real estate business person. He has run for local, state and federal offices (including the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate) numerous times. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1979 to 1983. This is his second run for CE—he lost as an Independent in 2006.
“I support (AIM goals). I am going to work with AIM.” Ficker also endorsed taking county land, currently home to “dandelions and ticks” and “possum and deer” and using it for affordable housing.
George Leventhal has served as a county council at-large member since 2002 and is in his fourth term. He is a former county Democratic Central Committee chair, and a former staff member to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md).
“I will work with AIM to increase HIF to $100 million in my first term as CE. I will work with AIM to dramatically increase the stock of affordable housing. Yes to county-owned and … to Metro land.
“But here’s the thing we really need to look at: land owned by AIM members and other religious institutions. We are already doing it in Montgomery County. Mount Jezreel (Silver Spring) Baptist Church brought 75 units online for senior housing on University Boulevard in Silver Spring.”
Roger Berliner, an attorney, has served on the county council since 2006. He is in his third term, currently serving as council president. Berliner has worked in governmental settings including the U.S. House of Representatives, and in the Senate where he was legislative director for Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). “We need more action rooted in faith. We need AIM. Our goals should be nothing less than making sure Montgomery County is a beloved community. I have been proud to partner with AIM from my first years on the county council, and I will partner with you in making affordable housing a reality in our county. I committed many months ago to increasing the HIF to $100 million.
“I led our council to require the county to look at every piece of county property when we are redeveloping to see if we can co-locate affordable housing on it.
“And that policy is succeeding. Look at what is happening in downtown Silver Spring. And we can do more. Every one of our garages we ought to be looking at because … our garages are (located) in some of our most valuable real estate … generally right next to transit. This is where we want affordable housing. If I have the privilege of serving as your county executive, working together, we will make progress on this critical issue.”
There are six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for county executive. There are many other races with numerous candidates. The League of Women Voters Education Fund has compiled candidate information (for all the races) in a non-partisan electronic guide for voters at vote411.org. Using an electronic device, voters can see the specific races and candidates that will be on their own ballots, compare candidates’ positions side-by-side, and print out a personalized sample “ballot” showing a voter’s choices. Maryland voters can use the print-out while voting, but electronic devices are not allowed in the polling place.
The primary election will be held June 26, 2018. Early voting has begun and continues through June 21. There are several local Early Voting locations including the Activity Center at Bohrer Park. For information about registration and voting: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections/index2.html.