Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is a liberal from Takoma Park, and during his 2018 campaign he took on developers, saying they should pay higher fees to fund schools and infrastructure. Developers were once a reliable lefty target. But now Elrich’s skepticism, unexpectedly, has him in hot water with some progressives, who recoiled when he came out against a proposal—unanimously endorsed in November by the County Council—to add 41,000 housing units to his county by 2030.
Elrich believes that Montgomery won’t need as many low-income units as the proposal assumes. “I’m not saying there will be no poverty,” he says, but he doesn’t think the projections add up. One reason: He says the county’s policies will mean there’s less of it. Investments in things like early-childhood education, he hopes, will give workers skills for better-paying jobs.
Some local legislators aren’t buying it. “He doesn’t have a magic wand,” says Hans Riemer, a fellow Democrat on the council and an Elrich critic. “Incomes are going to be no different at the end of his term as county executive than they were at the beginning. A fervent desire to see people have higher incomes is not a housing policy.” Elrich rejects the charge that he’s bowing to NIMBY fears of new development—and thus pushing up prices by reducing the supply of housing. “This is just a bunch of crap, a bunch of political nonsense,” he says, noting that he’s also focused on approaches such as rent control. “Yeah, I am outspoken. I don’t support giving away the store to developers.”
Elrich acknowledges that this issue has drawn criticism, and he’s frustrated by the implication that he’s not fighting for affordable housing. “You can’t make a bigger distortion than that,” he says, emphasizing that his objections are about the assumptions driving the proposal. He’s betting voters will see it his way. “Most people don’t accept that our future is as bleak as that report claims,” he says.
This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.