Category Archives: Hans Riemer

Riemer vs Elrich on Solar in the Ag Reserve

By Adam Pagnucco.

The extent to which solar panels should be allowed in the agricultural reserve was a big issue this week. Council Member Hans Riemer, one of the lead sponsors of legislation to do so, and County Executive Marc Elrich, who favors less capacity than Riemer, both issued statements this week which we reprint below. For background, you can refer to Bethesda Beat’s account of the county council’s decision on the issue, my column on its context and Delegate Kumar Barve’s letter to the council about the legislation.

First, let’s consider what Riemer had to say in his blast email of February 24.

*****

Why I Voted No

When I introduced the “farm + solar” zoning change with Council President Tom Hucker back in January 2020, my goal was to build a cornerstone of Montgomery County’s climate action policy.

By allowing less than 2% of the land in the County zoned “Agricultural Reserve” (which is itself one-third of all land in the County) to be used for privately funded community solar projects, the proposal would have generated enough clean energy to power more than 50,000 homes, while continuing agricultural practices on that land.

Regrettably, with opposition fueled by the County Executive, a majority of Councilmembers adopted two amendments to ZTA 20-01 that are so restrictive that the proposal may result in very little if any solar.

As a result, I voted “no,” because I am concerned that rather than a small step forward for Montgomery County, it may be a large step backward for Maryland. Consider these words from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which along with the Sierra Club and Poolesville Green strongly supported the original plan:

Clean energy has to go somewhere. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway.

We should be leading. Our county has adopted climate goals. We declared a “climate emergency.” We have conducted studies on how to reduce our carbon footprint. At the end of the day though, the only way to make a difference is to make policy changes, and changes will require disruption to the status quo.

Yes, many incumbent farmers and preservationists were opposed, due to impacts on their business models (shifting from commodity crops to agrivoltaics, solar grazing, or pollinator-friendly habitats on that portion of land) or a perceived threat that allowing solar is a step to allowing residential or other development (just a fear, not a reality).

There are reasonable questions about how we transition to a clean energy economy. One idea I offered was to use tax revenue from solar arrays to support additional agricultural preservation, grants to help small farmers purchase or lease land, and funds to support agrivoltaic and solar grazing. Nevertheless, under this plan, farming would continue, the Reserve would endure. Frankly not much would seem all that different but we would have made a huge impact on our carbon emissions.

Other choices that we have before us are far more costly, either financially to taxpayers or to businesses or homeowners. This is one of a very few ideas that does not actually require County funds — in fact it would generate millions in new county revenue that could be devoted to the climate agenda while creating new clean energy and solar grazing jobs.

Some of the important points to remember about this proposal include:

  1. Solar fields would have been limited each to 2MW in power generation, about 10-15 acres per property maximum (in contrast to portrayals of “industrial solar”)
  2. Total acreage allowed would have been limited to 1,800 out of the 100,000+ acre reserve, which itself is one-third of all land in the County
  3. Grazing sheep on pollinator-friendly plants beneath the arrays was encouraged and could have been incentivized with new tax revenue from the solar arrays
  4. Solar grazing and agrivoltaics would increase local food production in the Reserve — less than 1% of the land in the Agricultural Reserve today is farmed for fruits and vegetables destined for local farmers markets
  5. Rooftop and parking lot solar, while important, is significantly more expensive than ground-mounted or terrestrial solar fields, which is why you don’t see enough of it
  6. There is nothing more important to saving the climate than creating cheap clean energy
  7. By only allowing “community solar” installations on the land, energy companies taking advantage of the program would be required to offer discounted energy subscriptions to low income residents

The Council majority acknowledged that they are not sure if their proposal will result in new solar projects and that we should return to the topic in two years to evaluate progress.

In that respect, while I am disappointed in the final vote, I am also grateful that we have now opened up the possibility of farms providing community solar (which was previously entirely prohibited; now is mostly prohibited) and I am committed to growing that potential in the future as a necessary public benefit from our Agricultural Reserve.

In the meantime, while it is clear that the original proposal has overwhelming support from voters, we need to build grassroots support, and in particular, we need to educate residents about the primacy of clean energy and the social justice value of community solar.

To be continued.

Sincerely,
Hans

*****

Now let’s consider Elrich’s statement, issued on February 25.

*****

Dear Friends:

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voted to adopt changes to the County zoning code that will provide opportunities for locating solar collection systems in the Agricultural Reserve. I extend my thanks to the seven Councilmembers who found common ground that allows for community solar projects while protecting our agricultural resources.

Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 strikes the right balance between the need for renewable energy and the equally important need to protect the Agricultural Reserve’s unique and vital contributions to local food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

The new standards allow solar collection systems generating up to two megawatts of power as a conditional use on the lesser productive soils in the Ag Reserve. Other provisions protect streams, wetlands, steep slopes greater than 15 percent and forests.

In addition, the areas under the arrays must be used for farming or agricultural purposes. Examples include pollinator-friendly designation, agrivoltaic plantings or crops suitable for grazing farm animals. Another significant change affects property owners who install smaller solar systems to serve their individual energy needs, increasing the amount of on-site energy they can produce from 120 to 200 percent.

The County Council also mandated a formal review process to assess the outcomes of these changes in two years. This will give us the opportunity to observe whether and how this experiment will work, especially regarding the emerging field of agrivoltaics, which focuses on the co-development of land for both solar power and agriculture.

In the meantime, my administration continues to prioritize increased solar energy production in innovative ways. For example, we are currently planning the installation of a six-megawatt array on the County-owned site of an old landfill. We also are looking at ways to incentivize solar projects on existing parking lots and buildings elsewhere throughout the County. These types of projects are essential to our efforts to address climate change through clean energy solutions.

I deeply appreciate the work of all those involved in this year-long review, most especially members of, and advocates for, the farming community and Executive Department staff members. The Ag Reserve, established by prescient County leaders more than 40 years ago, is recognized as a national model of farmland and open space preservation. Its importance and significance grow with each passing year as we witness the effects of climate change on our food and water supplies. The legislation adopted by County Council embodies the need for protecting this resource while allowing us to see whether agriculture and solar systems can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way in Montgomery County.

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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Riemer Attacks the Police Union

By Adam Pagnucco.

Several months ago, Council Member Hans Riemer requested that the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) research the county’s administration of its collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP). OLO’s report was a stunner, revealing that the county’s sloppiness resulted in different sets of collective bargaining agreements being regarded as definitive by the two parties and that the agreements contained benefit levels exceeding maximums set in law. When OLO briefed the council on the report on Tuesday, multiple council members expressed concerns about the issue. But Riemer outdid them all with a brutal attack on the police union.

A bit of background. When Riemer was first elected to the council in 2010, he was supported by all three county employee unions (MCGEO, the Fire Fighters and the FOP) as well as the two largest MCPS unions (MCEA and SEIU Local 500). While the MCPS unions continued to endorse him, none of the county employee unions endorsed him in his next two reelection campaigns.

Over the years, Riemer’s relationship with the county employee unions has gradually deteriorated. He’s not alone – majorities of the county council voted to abrogate one or more of their collective bargaining agreements in 2016, 2019 and 2020. But the intensity of union sentiment has focused more on Riemer than his colleagues, culminating with a picket of Riemer’s home last May.

The FOP is particularly incensed with Riemer owing partly to his actions over the past two years. During the current term, Riemer has lead-sponsored three bills disliked or outright despised by the union, including legislation to establish a police advisory commission, reduce the union’s collective bargaining rights and prohibit school resource officers. The OLO report on collective bargaining, which was requested by Riemer, prompted a furious response from the FOP. The end result was that when the council first discussed the OLO report in public, Riemer held nothing back.

I may have a comment about the merits of Riemer’s criticisms in a future column, but for now let’s hear what he had to say. The following is a transcription of his remarks at the council briefing on February 2.

Council Member Hans Riemer: I think what you see here is the result of an organization, which is our police department, frankly being under siege for 25 years from a hyper-aggressive legal adversary that uses every means at its disposal to gain control. And I think it’s very reasonable to separate our strong support for our officers who need our support. They need to know that we are there for them, we will equip them, we will train them, we will fund their salaries – at the same time, not having a dynamic where the legal advocacy of that organization takes over the department, which I think has unfortunately happened in so many different ways.

And if you saw the letter to the editor from the FOP to the Bethesda Beat over the weekend, I thought it was shocking. You know, they actually said nowhere in county collective bargaining law does it say that a third party or the county council need to be able to decipher all collective bargaining documents. Put yourself in a mindset to be able to write those words, that the public has no right to know or need to know what is in our governing documents. That is the mindset that we are dealing with. And it is a huge problem.

So we need to tackle the many consequences of this in discipline, we see this playing out, officers committing egregious offenses, sitting on payroll for year after year after year, and there’s legislation that Council Member Rice and I, co-sponsored by Council Member Jawando, Council Member Navarro, have introduced that will address a lot of the root causes of these problems. And I would really like the county council public safety chair and committee to review that legislation. It’s been before the council for months. It has not had a meeting. We need to review that legislation and have a discussion about it. The fact that the use of force policy is now being bargained despite our clear intention is problematic.

*****

Note: That last sentence from Riemer refers to legislation passed by the council last August that codified a use of force policy for the county police department. Both Riemer and Council Member Will Jawando claimed that it is now being bargained despite its presence in county law, which supersedes county collective bargaining agreements.

(Disclosure: I was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014. I have worked for labor unions but have never worked for the FOP.)

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Smart Growth or Corporate Welfare? Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

For many years, MoCo has focused its land use and economic development policies on transit-oriented development. Since 2006, the county has adopted eight master plans centered on Metro stations, another four centered on Purple Line stations and one more centered on Corridor Cities Transitway stations. Another plan is in the works for Downtown Silver Spring.

The capstone for the Metro-based plans is development on top of the Metro stations themselves, which requires joint development agreements with WMATA. Placing the highest density on Metro stations, along with nearby parcels, enables the county to balance growth, transportation and environmental priorities in its march towards the future. For fifteen years, that’s what we have been told.

Now we are told that this approach won’t work without taxpayer subsidies.

The problem is that most, if not all, development on top of Metro stations is not proceeding. And that is because of economics. In order to be economically viable, Metro development projects must charge rents or condo prices sufficient to not only cover construction costs, financing and investor returns but also the unique costs associated with Metro station sites. The economics are particularly difficult with high rise projects, which have higher material and construction costs than wood-frame projects. And so the county council has proposed Bill 29-20, which would eliminate property taxes on Metro station development projects for 15 years and replace them with undefined payments in lieu of taxes to be set later.

In justifying the bill’s purpose, consider these remarks by Council Members Hans Riemer and Andrew Friedson, the lead sponsors of the bill, and Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson at the council’s first work session.


Riemer
I want to say that this is a smart growth proposal. This is about making development feasible where decades of inactivity has demonstrated it is not feasible. If you look at Montgomery County and our Metro stations, you will almost universally see empty space on top of the Metro stations and despite efforts by WMATA over many years to support development at those stations, to solicit development on their property, there is very little that has happened. And there is very little that has happened recently, in the last ten years or so. Very little high rise, especially, and because of a shift in the market, I think which is driven by regional economic shifts and global economic shifts that have made the cost of high rise construction prohibitive except in the most high rent communities…

I think very broadly speaking, we have sought to channel all of our development, almost all of it, through a smart growth framework. We want to get housing that is high rise. We want to discourage sprawl. But the problem is we have not – the market isn’t producing the high rise that we have zoned for, that we want. And so the end result is we’re not getting much development. We’re not getting very much housing. We’re not even getting much commercial development.

Friedson
The idea that we’re forgoing revenue and that has a direct cost, that we’re leaving money on the table, we’re not leaving money on the table – the table doesn’t exist currently. That is the issue. There is no development, there is no investment. At best, the table is going somewhere else. It’s been shipped to another region of the country. It’s been shipped to another county. The whole point here is to create the opportunity. You know, the idea that we would be serious about transit-oriented development, that we would be serious about meeting our significant housing targets to address the housing crisis that we currently face but wouldn’t be willing to do anything about it is troubling. And we need a game changer. We need something to change the economic development path that we’re on, we need something to change the housing path that we’re on, that currently does not work. And I will say our housing situation, that is our version of a wall in Montgomery County. What we do with housing is a decision that we make on whether or not we want new residents here or not. That’s the local government version of whether we put up a literal or proverbial wall to say who can and who can’t live here, who we want and who we don’t want here.

Anderson
Will the development happen anyway? And I think the market is not just speaking, it’s screaming that the answer is no. Because you don’t have to take any particular real estate developer’s word for it, you can see what’s happening in the real world. It’s not just in Montgomery County, you can look at what market rents are at every Metro station in the region and you’ll see that there’s a few, particularly in Northern Virginia and in Bethesda, where rents can justify new high-rise construction there. Everywhere else, the answer is no, and that’s not just true of Grosvenor, or for that matter Forest Glen, as you mentioned, it’s also true of White Flint.


In considering these remarks, let’s remember who is saying them. It’s not County Executive Marc Elrich, who voted against numerous transit-oriented development master plans when he was on the council. It’s Casey Anderson, who has served on the Planning Board for nine years and chaired it for six; Hans Riemer, who has served on the council for ten years and is the current chair of its planning committee; and Andrew Friedson, who has emerged as the council’s principal champion of economic development during his first term in office. These are not development critics as Elrich has been. Anderson in particular, and Riemer to a lesser extent, are two of the architects of the county’s Metro-oriented land use policy and they are saying that it has failed.

They are also saying that the only way to rescue it is through what may ultimately become the biggest application of corporate tax breaks in the county’s history.

Are they right? We’ll discuss it in Part Two.

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MCGEO Protests at Riemer’s House

By Adam Pagnucco.

Angry at the county council’s rejection of its revised collective bargaining agreement, MCGEO – the largest county employee union outside MCPS – protested at Council Member Hans Riemer’s house today.

Every council member except Tom Hucker and Will Jawando voted to reject the agreements, so why did the union target Riemer alone? MCGEO’s spokeswoman told WJLA-7, “Hans was the most vehement against the contract. He really led the charge.” MCGEO is also upset at Riemer for voting to reject both its original contract (which provided a peak raise of 9.4%) and its revised contract last year. Council Member Andrew Friedson was the only other council member to vote against both of those agreements along with Riemer.

MCGEO doesn’t like Hans Riemer.

This isn’t just about the contracts. Riemer’s repeated strong criticisms of County Executive Marc Elrich have led many to believe that Riemer is considering a challenge to Elrich in the next election. Riemer is in his third term on the council and term limits prevent him from running again for his current seat. None of this is lost on MCGEO, which claimed credit for Elrich’s election. By targeting Riemer, MCGEO accomplishes two objectives – defending its contract and punishing a potential rival to Elrich. Given MCGEO’s long history of tough tactics against politicians who vote against its contracts, this is likely just the opening move of a larger campaign against Riemer.

The union has published more than 30 photos of its protest at Riemer’s home. Some of them show Riemer’s house itself. I won’t be reposting actual images of the house, but here are a few of the protestors.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. These lists were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. Let’s see what they had to say!

9. Council Member Hans Riemer (At-Large) – 21 votes

Source: Executive candidate in waiting often speaks for the Council.

Source: Hans is definitely going after Marc Elrich, and has been for a long time. So he has been making bold plays and making change.

Source: ADUs, 5G, solar farms – it is what we are talking about. Also gearing up for run for CE means he is putting himself out there.

AP: So far, the leader of the resistance to County Executive Marc Elrich, especially on the issue of housing. He is taking fire from Elrich supporters and that might have given him pause in the past. But the 2020 version of Riemer has a harder edge than the guy I worked for years ago, and if he really does take on Elrich, he is going to need it.

8. State Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) – 23 votes

Source: A go-to sponsor on so many important measures.

Source: Quietly extremely effective.

Source: Strongest MoCo Senate voice we have.

AP: Smart, pragmatic, respected and has seen a lot in nearly two decades in office. We could use another couple dozen like him, but if all we get is one Brian Feldman, we’ll take him.

7. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen – 25 votes

Source: Able to quickly translate his House expertise in politics and policy to the Senate.

Source: Best Senator ever.

AP: CVH has been arguably MoCo’s most popular politician for nearly two decades. He may be in the U.S. Senate now but he can still tap into his old Downcounty base whenever he wants support for whatever he does in the future.

6. Comptroller Peter Franchot – 28 votes

Source: Wields a lot of power from the perch of the Board of Public Works.

Source: Perhaps the most adept politician in the state outside the Governor himself. He’s smartly begun cultivating support outside of his typical base of centrist whites, but his gubernatorial bid might nevertheless be reliant on enough room in his ideological lane.

Source: Love him or hate him, he has a big impact on Maryland with his Board of Public Works vote and bromance with the Governor.

AP: What politician can serve more than 30 years in office and still run as an outsider? Peter Franchot, that’s who! Franchot has built his brand on fiscal conservatism, fighting “the machine,” and crusading for underdogs on issues ranging from school air conditioners to expanding craft beer. His crack team, led by master strategist Len Foxwell, is the best in Annapolis.

5. State Senator Will Smith (D-20) – 31 votes

Source: It’s wonderful to have the Senate Judicial Proceedings gavel in progressive hands.

Source: Most visible sign of Annapolis’s ideological and demographic shifts, though perhaps won’t be in the Senate much longer.

Source: If the Governor is telling you to resign, you’re probably doing something right.

Source: No political star has risen faster.

AP: Think about how incredible this trajectory is. Will Smith gets elected to the House in 2014. He is appointed to the Senate in 2016. He becomes Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year. After getting blasted by Governor Larry Hogan over crime legislation, he gets a package of crime bills passed including some of the governor’s priorities just a couple weeks later. Now he is ranked as one of the most influential elected officials in Montgomery County and folks are talking about him as a potential statewide candidate. Few elected officials anywhere rise this fast.

Coming next: our earth-shattering Final Four!

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Riemer Proposes Liquor Monopoly Payment Holiday

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Hans Riemer has proposed that liquor licensees be allowed to defer payments owed to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS). Specifically, Riemer wrote, “I am writing to request that ABS allow restaurant licensees to defer payments or make partial payments on all products purchased from ABS for the next 12 months.” Riemer notes the extreme financial losses being experienced by licensees and suggests that the county “explore options that could allow the County to smooth the revenue impact of this proposal over a longer period of time.”

We reprint Riemer’s letter below. We intend to print the executive’s response when we receive it.

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Is This Moving Into the 21st Century?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that he is “focused on building a 21st century economy that will help the County maintain its leadership position in the State, while being more competitive in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.”  And how will that be done?

By marketing the county’s 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly, of course!

The county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS), formerly known as the Department of Liquor Control, has a monopoly on wholesale distribution of alcohol from which only small, local craft breweries and distilleries are exempt.  Through its county liquor stores, ABS also has a monopoly on off-premises retail sales of spirits.  This structure has been in place since the end of prohibition.

The original purpose of the liquor monopoly was to “control certain obnoxious practices” and “keep the county an attractive place to live.”  Now, however, the purpose of the monopoly is to make money.  During the current fiscal year, ABS is projected to contribute $28 million to the general fund and an additional $9 million to pay off county debt service.  Despite its overall profitability, ABS is under heavy pressure to make even more money for four primary reasons.

First, the county projected a $100 million revenue shortfall back in December.  It’s unknown whether that number will change when the executive’s recommended budget is released next month, but if there is a shortfall of close to that amount, that’s a problem.

Second, the county has been raiding its retiree health care fund to balance its budget in recent years.  A statement by Wall Street credit agency Moody’s warned the county to stop doing that.  If the county takes heed, how will it replace that money?

Third, the county council clearly has no appetite for tax increases at the moment.

Fourth, Council Member Hans Riemer recently revealed that the county liquor stores as a group are actually losing money, not making it.  That prompted an explosive reaction from ABS Director Bob Dorfman amid questions about whether the stores should continue operations.

An excerpt from an email by the county executive calling for a 21st Century economy and simultaneously promoting the liquor monopoly.

ABS has now proposed a solution for increasing the stores’ profitability: it wants to rebrand them.  In a council session on February 20, the council reviewed a letter from the county attorney asking for permission to hire outside counsel specializing in trademarks to secure a new name.  The county’s chief administrative officer told the council that the specific name being considered is “Cork and Barrel,” which a simple Google search confirms is widely used around the country (including in Maryland).  The initial outlay to the trademark attorney is expected to be less than $6,000.  But if ABS does go through with a name change, there will be many additional expenses for logo design and changes to facilities and equipment.  Last summer, when water and sewer utility WSSC proposed a name change, the projected expenses totaled $850,000.  Council Member Evan Glass raised the experience of WSSC and said, “If a government monopoly or a quasi-government monopoly needs a marketing and outreach strategy then there is a problem.”

Three council members – Riemer, Glass and Andrew Friedson – voted against the appointment of counsel.  Friedson and Glass have gone on record in opposition to the liquor monopoly.  Riemer thinks it is time for the county to close its retail liquor stores.  The rest of the council voted in favor of hiring outside counsel.

The county council has almost no power to control the liquor monopoly under state law.  But the General Assembly does and its vision for the monopoly is very different from the Elrich administration’s.  In 2017, the General Assembly passed a state law enabling the monopoly to contract with private stores to allow them to sell spirits.  (Right now, only county liquor stores may sell hard alcohol – a crucial advantage for the county.)  But ABS has ignored the law’s intent and has so far refused to allow private retail sales of spirits.  Its rationale is understandable: without its retail spirits monopoly, its stores might never be profitable.  No dissenting votes were cast in Annapolis against the law that the monopoly now flouts.  Will MoCo’s state legislators hold it accountable?

As for the name change and marketing expenses, consider this.  State law requires private beer and wine stores to purchase products from the county liquor monopoly’s wholesale operation.  Their payments will now be used to rebrand and market the county liquor stores that are in direct competition with them.  In essence, they will be required to pay for the county’s attempt to raid their market share and take away their business.

How is this a legitimate function of government?

How can Montgomery County do this and claim that it is business friendly??

MoCo faces a choice.  It can move into the 21st Century and allow competition.  Or it can have a 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly.

It can’t do both.

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Affordable Housing Spat: Who’s Right?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Marc Elrich and his biggest critic, Council Member Hans Riemer, are feuding once again.  This time, the subject is affordable housing.  Elrich says his new recommended capital budget includes a record sum for affordable housing.  Riemer says there are in fact no new resources.

Who is right?

Let’s consider the statements from each of them.  First, here is Elrich.

Affordable housing is one of my top priorities. It is vital to our County’s future success. We must maintain and expand our stock of affordable housing and we are taking this critical issue head on in the capital budget. That is why I am recommending we add $132 million for affordable housing to the capital budget over the next six years.

This is a record level of funding for affordable housing projects for our capital budget. These funds will be used by the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation Project to facilitate efforts to preserve existing stock and increase the number of affordable housing units in the County. But that is not all.

In this Capital budget, I am proposing a new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to leverage funding from other partners that will support short-term financing while affordable housing developers arrange for permanent project financing.

Here is Riemer’s response.

On affordable housing, I was initially encouraged by the Executive’s speech about increasing funding levels. Indeed, I am intrigued by his proposal to create a new housing preservation fund. However, while he claims to have added more than $132 million in the affordable housing fund, after further examination it became clear that the annual amount is unchanged at $22 million. Under the last Executive, affordable housing funding was only programmed for the first two years of the six year budget, but additional funding was always added in the subsequent years. We need to increase our affordable housing fund to at least $100 million annually. This change in accounting will not result in increased resources. In combination with his resistance to the Council’s affordable housing goals, developed with and agreed upon by all the local governments in Washington region, the County Executive’s housing policy continues to be a matter of serious concern.

These two like each other about as much as Popeye and Bluto.  (Which one is Popeye depends on your point of view!)  But how can their statements be reconciled?

Since Fiscal Year 2001, the county’s primary affordable housing vehicle has been its Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, which appears in the county’s capital budget.  The program enables the county to buy or renovate, or assist other entities to buy or renovate, affordable housing.  It is financed by several sources including but not limited to loan repayments and the county’s Housing Investment Fund (which is mostly supported by recordation taxes).

The capital budget, which includes the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, is a six-year budget.  In even years (like 2020), it is written anew and in odd years, it is amended.  Projects in the capital budget can have up to six different years of funding in them (with more scheduled outside of the budget’s six year horizon).  In the past, the affordable housing program has only shown funding for the first two years of the capital budget with zero money programmed in the last four years.  But since the capital budget is rewritten every two years with affordable housing money renewed in each successive budget, that has not mattered.

The table below shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in the last 16 capital budgets.  Each budget covers six years.  Budgets labeled with an “A” are amended budgets programmed in off years.

At first glance, Elrich appears to be right.  His new recommended capital budget includes $132 million for Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation, which is far higher than any previous capital budget.  But let’s remember what Riemer said about the annual amount of spending.  All the previous six-year budgets included funding during the first two years only.  Elrich’s new capital budget shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in all six years.  Riemer is correct: an accounting change caused the apparent increase in this program.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Elrich created a new program in the capital budget called the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.  This program is dedicated to acquiring affordable housing in areas at risk of rent escalation, such as those near the Purple Line and other transit corridors, and is intended to use public funds to leverage private funds in acquiring and preserving affordable housing.  This new program provides $10 million in each of the new capital budget’s first two years for this purpose.  That money comes from recordation tax premiums which are normally used to finance transportation projects, so it’s not “free” money.  But it is more money for affordable housing.

Combining the existing Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program and Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, the table below shows the annual expenditures for affordable housing in the capital budget since FY05.  Annual expenditures are drawn from the first two years of every amended capital budget with FY21 and FY22 drawn from the executive’s new recommended capital budget.

Combining the two programs, Elrich recommends spending more capital money for affordable housing in FY21 and FY22 than any annual expenditure in the preceding published budgets.  When adjusting for inflation, Elrich’s FY21 and FY22 spending amounts are roughly equal to the Leggett administration’s peak affordable housing years of FY09 and FY10, so one can quibble about whether Elrich’s spending is truly a record.  But when Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund is included, the first two years of his new budget definitely show an annual increase for affordable housing over the prior budget.

The county’s capital budget has been shrinking due to cutbacks in general obligation bond issuances and declining projected school impact tax receipts.  That’s a dire subject for another time.  But given the county’s budget difficulties, Elrich’s financial commitment to affordable housing is meaningful.  Friends and foes alike should give him credit for it.

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Riemer Takes on Elrich

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Hans Riemer has used Facebook to weigh in on his colleague, Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  Riemer and Elrich have cooperated on numerous progressive priorities like Elrich’s $15 minimum wage bill, Riemer’s bill to restore the county’s earned income tax credit, protecting Ten Mile Creek and instituting paid leave, but the two have occasionally disagreed on land use issues.  Other than Nancy Floreen, who has endorsed Rose Krasnow, the other incumbent Council Members who aren’t running for Executive themselves have been quiet on the Executive race.  We reprint Riemer’s Facebook post below.  (Disclosure: your author was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014.)

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