Bringing a racial equity lens to Montgomery County
At Sunday’s forum on racial equity and immigrant rights, I shared my intention, as your next County Executive, to bring an explicit racial equity lens to Montgomery County government decisions. Someone in the audience asked an excellent question: What would my approach look like? I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you.
In general, I believe our county government should be required to consider the likely racial impacts of all of our policy and staffing decisions. In partnership with communities and advocacy organizations, we need to evaluate those impacts and be transparent in documenting whether, based on well-researched metrics, our policies are matching our words.
To zero in on an important case that came up at the forum, county officials have too often proposed zoning changes that would displace low-income communities of color. In 2012 and 2013, a Long Branch sector plan that included the upzoning of a very large swath of existing affordable multi-family housing - housing occupied largely by Long Branch’s low-income immigrant community - was brought before the County Council. The plan’s architects intended to tie construction of the Purple Line to new, much more expensive housing developments that would replace the existing affordable housing in that area. Even if 15% of the new units were “MPDUs” (moderately priced dwelling units), which was the best-case scenario, there would have been fewer total affordable housing units available in Long Branch if this plan had been implemented - in other words, less available lower-priced housing for people who need it.
Many of the families living in the existing affordable multi-family homes would not have qualified to live in MPDUs. Some had more family members than most MPDUs would have been able to hold (the proposed plan did not require developers to provide family-sized units). Some families had incomes too low or credit histories too short to qualify. For others, legal status would have been their chief barrier. In addition, the county did not have the resources to provide long-term rental assistance on the scale that would have been required in Long Branch.
In other words, under the Planning Board’s proposal, the current low-income immigrants in Long Branch would have been forced to relocate elsewhere. Since the existing buildings weren’t even an impediment to building the Purple Line, the Planning Board’s recommendations were particularly ill-advised.
When I met with planning staff and their director at the Long Branch shopping center, I told them - forcefully - that their plan was unacceptable.
I am happy to note that, within a week of my meeting, the proposal to rezone the particular properties I had questioned was withdrawn. I was also able to get results when the same process unfolded in two more sector plans and a proposal from the Planning Board to do a mini master plan. But these plans should never have been proposed in the first place. I am convinced they never would have been if we had a racial equity lens in place and were required to show the impacts such plans would have had on the surrounding communities of color.
I’ve been the consistent voice on the County Council speaking out on these issues because I know what the consequences will be if we fail to preserve our existing affordable housing. And as your next County Executive, I would like to make the consideration of racial equity the expectation in all of our policymaking, rather than the exception to the rule.
As I develop my proposed racial equity policy, I would appreciate your input. You can find Fairfax County’s racial equity policy here, and you can share your thoughts and ideas on how our policy should look in Montgomery County by filling out this form. I look forward to working with you, as your next County Executive, to make this county a more equitable place.