Taxes and cost of living increase fuel living conditions and prices in county
Living as a single parent in Montgomery County isn't becoming any cheaper.
Statistics from the Out of Reach 2016 survey released by National Low Income Housing Coalition show a single person would have to make a salary of $31.21an hour to afford a two-bedroom housing unit in the County without another person sharing cost.
That's up from an hourly wage of $28.04 last year. The minimum wage in the County is due to rise from its current rate of $9.55 per hour to $10.75 per hour July 1.
Council members have passed bills affecting housing in Montgomery County during the last two years.
Last year, the County Council passed by a 5-4 vote a tax incentive authored by Council member Nancy Floreen (D) for developers who set aside a quarter of their housing stock for affordable housing.
This year, the council unanimously passed a property tax increase for Fiscal Year 2017, raising the rate from 98.7 cents per $100 of assessed value to $1.02 per $100. That would amount to a property tax bill of $4,080 for a house assessed at $400,000.
“This is the first time in eight years that we’ve raised the property tax above the charter limit,” said Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for County Executive Ike Leggett, noting the charter limits property tax increases to the prior year’s level plus the rate of inflation.
“We’ve created or preserved about 20,000 affordable housing units in the County and we’ve invested somewhere north of $300 million in our housing initiative fund, which helps to support rent in the county and also helps preserve affordable housing,” he added.
For the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, “We kept that initiative going with I think a little over $20 million for the housing initiative,” said Lacefield.
Three other towns within the County also raised their municipal property tax rates for FY '17: Poolesville, Somerset and Chevy Chase.
In April, Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large) introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage in the County to $15 per hour in 2020, though it has yet to pass the full council.
"People need wages that make it possible for them to live in society in a decent way. They need to be able to put a roof over their head, feed their families, raise their children and do it in a way where they are not constantly in stress and turmoil over 'how do I make it day to day,'" said Elrich during an April 12 County Council meeting.
Dan Emmanuel, a research analyst with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, explained the coalition relied on the federal standard for defining affordability, in which 30 percent of someone's monthly income pays for rent and utilities.
"That happens because the housing wage is calculated entirely from (the Housing and Urban Development's) fair market rent," he said. "The fair market rents are also calculated for metropolitan areas.
The $31.21 hourly wage to afford two-bedroom housing is the same for Charles, Frederick, Prince George's and Calvert counties while single-room housing for one person in Montgomery County would require a $25.13 hourly wage.
Much more common, however, is that people who earn less than the median County wage spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, according to Susie Sinclair-Smith, executive director of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.
Residential developers building at least 20 residential units in Montgomery County are required to designate between 12.5 percent and 15 percent of their stock as Moderately Priced Development Units.
However, affordable housing is different from low-income housing, said Sinclair-Smith.
She noted housing developers tend to focus on building homes for people earning 40 percent to 60 percent of the median income for the County.
Sinclair-Smith said the costs of housing, medical care, transportation, taxes, food and child care for a mother with an infant and a toddler living in the County mean a single parent needs to earn $78,000 a year in order to achieve a sustainable wage in the County without someone else to split costs.
That rate falls to $36,000 for a single adult with no dependents, she added.
"There are a lot of men at our shelter because they can't find a room for $700 or $800 and that housing stock just isn't here in Montgomery County," said Sinclair-Smith.
She said that particularly affects people who work in the service economy, such as cashiers at fast-food restaurants.
"They might have three jobs," said Sinclair-Smith. "The standard nationally is that they shouldn't pay more than third of their income on housing."
For local residents who don't earn much money, "It's hard," she said. "And I think for most people in the service economy, it's very difficult to live in Montgomery County."