Montgomery County DSA Opposes “Developer Blank Check” County Council Bill 29-20

Montgomery County DSA

Montgomery County DSA Opposes “Developer Blank Check” County Council Bill 29-20

September 16, 2020

The steering committee of the Montgomery County, MD branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (MoCo DSA) strongly opposes the proposed Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) scheme offered in the Montgomery County Council bill’s 29-20, and condemns the lack of financial transparency. The bill as proposed would offer a “blank check” to corporate developers who build on certain leased WMATA (Metro) properties, rather than offering real solutions to the housing affordability crisis in Montgomery County. Bill 29-20 gives developers a 100 percent exemption from property taxes for a period of 15 years, even as the Council prepares cuts to public services in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The County Council is abdicating its role in managing the County’s finances during an unprecedented fiscal and public health calamity affecting all million-plus residents in the County. 

Cuts to public services are looming, and the Council has frozen the compensation of County government workers. Yet in this bill, the Council is offering developers a 15-year, 100 percent tax-exemption in exchange for a reduced payment of unknown size. The bill also stipulates that the County government may negotiate this reduced payment directly with developers, without any further public input into the terms of such agreement – for example, the size of the tax subsidy to developers, or any stipulations on the amount, if any, of affordable housing. 

This is an unconscionable bill, especially as prime real estate on Metrorail property does not require a subsidy to entice developers to build dense housing and commercial development.

The county government and the state of Maryland have a long-track record of corporate giveaways under the guise of “economic incentives.” But things like the loss of Discovery Communications in Silver Spring and close to 700 layoffs by Marriott in Bethesda make us question whether any long-term benefits have trickled down to working-class communities after we handed out tens of millions dollars in subsidies over the last decade.

Montgomery County DSA believes that quality housing must be secured as a human right, not a commodity, for all people. To that end, we agree with the stated goal of the County Council to increase the stock of affordable housing, especially in close proximity to economic opportunity, vibrant communities, and reliable public transit. But a small number of MPDUs in new high-rises are a drop in the bucket and are not even affordable for low-income residents. 

If private interests will not construct affordable housing without fiscal support, then the County Council and the state of Maryland must explore options such as Delegate Vaughn Stewart’s Social Housing Act (House Bill 1149) to create vibrant, socio-economically diverse housing modeled after the publicly-built Social Housing in Vienna, Austria. The converging economic, public health, racial injustice, and climate crises call for bold action to address the housing crisis, not a continuation of the same failed logic that brought us to our current situation.

illustration of lightning bolt striking a rose on top of U.S. Capitol Building
illustration of lightning bolt striking a rose on top of U.S. Capitol Building

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