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Montgomery County Seal. (Courtesy Photo)

ROCKVILLE — On July 24, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced that the county’s Housing Initiative Fund provided the highest level of financing in its history. 

The county fund allocated enough money to preserve or create 22 multifamily properties, which also created a total of 3,254 apartment units. Of those units, 1,982 were designated as affordable housing, according to the county.

The Housing Initiative Fund is a county program that focuses resources on renovating distressed properties, thus creating new housing for residents with special needs, renovating distressed properties and creating mixed-income communities. 

According to the county, the program is meant to “build neighborhoods and not just housing units.”

Founded in 1988, the Housing Initiative Fund has been overseen by the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA), according to an overview of the program. 

The department uses a Loan Committee, which is made up of citizens and bankers, to review and act on staff recommendations.

“Unlike many local governments that offer housing trust fund money through a competitive request for (a) proposals process only at certain times of the year, housing initiative (funds) are available throughout the year and can be used for predevelopment, bridge, acquisition and permanent financing,” the county wrote. “The ongoing availability of funds helps affordable housing developers better respond to opportunities in the real estate housing market.”

According to the county, the Housing Initiative Fund receives its revenue from a variety of sources, which include loan repayments and 2.5% of the Montgomery County property tax revenue. 

To assist, DHCA amplifies the impact of funding from the Housing Initiative Fund by combining them with local, state and federal resources to renovate and remodel distressed properties. 

“I am proud of the investment that HIF was able to make this year that has led to nearly 2,000 units of affordable housing,” Elrich said. “Our focus on preserving existing housing while adding new units produced 3,254 apartments, and 61 percent of them are affordable.”

According to the Census Bureau and the American Community Survey, the median gross rent in Montgomery County is about $1,693 a month. To compare, the national median in 2017 was $949, according to the Census Bureau.

“I believe that the county should continue leveraging its assets to maximize our impact on affordable housing,” Elrich said. “We must be creative and find solutions that generate more affordable housing and find the best opportunities to work with developers to address this very challenging problem. Today is an example of how government can play a role in addressing the issue.”

According to the county, affordable housing units offer rents to individuals with incomes that fall between 30 and 60% of the county’s Area Median Income. For example, for a family with four members, 30% of AMI is about $36,390 a year. For that same family, at 60% AMI is about $72,780.

The DHCA attributes its success this year to three elements; the agency’s focus on preserving market rate affordable housing, good interest rates and the preservation of existing affordable housing.  

“Whether (it) is a senior citizen looking to downsize but not finding a suitable location for them to downsize to, whether it is a family struggling to find a location suitable for their growing family, whether (it) is a young professional trying to break in and live here in Montgomery County and get their family started to begin with. Across the gamut housing is a common challenge experience not only just here in Montgomery County but across our entire region,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, who serves as chair of the Health and Human Services committee of the council. 

He noted that during his campaign for county council, housing was a common topic that constituents brought up in conversation. 

“As a candidate for county council last year, I visited about 114 living rooms with different constituents talking about a variety of different issues, and without a doubt, housing was the primary concern, the common denominator of virtually everyone I spoke to,” Albornoz said. 

According to the county, DHCA collaborated with for-profit and nonprofit developers to reach this year’s amount of funding. For-profit developers included Stratford Capital, RST Development and the Conifer Group, among others. On the non-profit side, the Montgomery Housing Partnership, Housing Opportunities Commission and Victory Housing all contributed to this year’s success.

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