GLOG – Affluence Influence

Dear Readers,

We have a GLOG (“Guest blog”) this time! Here are some remarks from Takoma Park resident Steve Davies, partly in response to the last granolapark entry, partly in response to a recent article in the city newsletter. My comments follow his. Your comments welcome.
– Gilbert

No doubt, it’s a tough issue. But as a homeowner, I would be willing to pay a surcharge or special fee (as we do for stormwater) that would go into a fund to help people with their rent and to help them 1) buy a home in TP (good luck w/ the housing prices the way they are) or 2) help tenants take ownership of their buildings.

I’m with Clay — let’s put our money where our mouths are. I assume (no proof here) some landlords are greedy and don’t keep their properties in livable shape, but others — I surmise — are simply businesspeople trying to do the right thing for tenants and make a modest profit. If

Takoma Park drags its feet on addressing the landlords’ concerns, tenants will truly be SOL.

May I add an observation about what I see as a bit of a disconnect? Our latest Takoma News talks of New Hampshire Avenue redevelopment in glowing “community” terms. We need redevelopment along this blighted stretch of road, which right now has businesses that do not serve our “affluent” community, the article says.

The city wants to market the Takoma/Long Branch Enterprise Zone to developers. The EZ provides tax breaks for expansion and capital improvements for commercial properties along NH Ave between Eastern and University, on University between NH and Piney Branch, and also on Piney Branch, including Flower Village.

This Enterprise Zone was an important campaign plank for Mayor Porter, but an article in the TP Gazette shortly after the election noted that most business owners who attended an EZ informational meeting were unaware that it even existed, despite its having been designated in 2003.

Here’s where I see a bit of a disconnect. Many in TP are willing to believe the worst about landlords, and want to ensure that rents are affordable, yet the city is saying that we need businesses that will appeal to our “affluent” lifestyles.

Many of the businesses along NH Ave serve the communities across the road in Prince George’s, or the folks in Langley Park. I noticed there’s even a new bank serving Latinos in the strip center just north of Holton. And Aldi? That’s like Trader Joe’s, but cheaper. Many many people who are a lot poorer than homeowners here in TP shop there for their groceries. Are we proposing to get rid of that?

Despite the years of rhetoric about redevelopment along NH, I have yet to hear anyone suggest a realistic proposal for new business. Wal-Mart? (Please, no). Target? There’s one 10 minutes away down 410. Nordstrom’s? Yikes. (They wouldn’t come, anyway)

We do have the new Starbucks (a tiny one) down at the Crossroads. But pity the person who tries to suggest Starbucks move into Old Town Takoma. Oh, the protests that would ensue!

By all means fix the sidewalks, improve the shelters at the bus stops, educate the existing business proprietors about the EZ and the possibility of tax breaks — but please, let’s try to acknowledge the existence of the communities near us that are not as “affluent.”
BTW, I’d love to see some back-and-forth on this subject, w/ specifics.
EZ info.
Steve Davies
Poplar Ave
Takoma Park MD 20912
Thanks for the comments. I’d also like to see some back and forth on this. Readers, please comment!

You’re damn right there would be a protest if Starbucks proposed moving into Old Town Takoma, and your Gilbert would be leading it! We must not allow ANY (more) chain stores a foothold in our commercial areas. It is a fatal contagion and must be treated as such. Inoculate, fumigate, cleanse, scour, purge! Amputate if necessary! Gilbert is sure you are a fine fellow, Steve, but he suggests that if you want to be near a Starbucks and all those other fine national chains that have just about turned all of America’s cities into monoculture wastelands (with all the profits flowing to big corporations), he suggests you move to a shopping mall.

Breathe easy, though, Steve, there is hope for you, judging by your comments about the city newsletter’s claims that the New Hampshire Avenue corridors surrounding communities are “affluent.” After some rehabilitation, and perhaps if you wear a monitoring device, we might let you stay in Takoma Park.

For those readers who haven’t seen it, Steve refers to the front-page lead article in the city-published June newsletter, “Building Community on New Hampshire Avenue,” by Susan Holiday.

A pdf download of the city newsletter is online.

The article describes a special “redevelopment bus tour of the area” run, the article says, by the city staff for city councilmembers and Montgomery and Prince Georges county officials.

The article says “The majority of households within a half-mile radius of the southern City gateways qualify as affluent, according to data supplied by Claritas, a demographics research company.”

The word “affluent” is not in quotes, mind you. That may be the writer’s own word. But, I have to agree with Steve that the tone of this city staff presentation-on-wheels, as reported in this article, is that gentrification is the city’s goal.

This is odd, especially given previous statements from councilmember Doug Barry. He went out of his way at the January 3 city council meeting, when he presented his 10 point plan for NH Ave. redevelopment, to say that gentrification was NOT the goal. He also pointed out that, contrary to general perception, the corridor is not derelict – most of the shops are currently occupied by small businesses. There is not a lot of room for new development. So, if this article is accurate, it does appear that the city staff advocates pushing existing businesses out and replacing them with more upscale shops.

Barry’s 10 point plan was mostly concerned with providing affordable housing, improving pedestrian access (sidewalks and crossing bights), and streetscapes.

A parenthetical note, according to a recent Washington Post report, New Hampshire Towers, the city’s largest housing rental property, and the subject of Barry’s fourth point to “find an ownership solution” for, will be converting to condominiums.

So where does this apparent gentrification focus come from? It is possible that it is merely the newsletter reporter’s misinterpretation, but that is not likely, given that the newsletter is published by the city and they would be more careful than an independent publication (or blog, heh heh) to give the wrong impression about city policy.

Finally, as for Steve’s point favoring a city surcharge to subsidize low-income renters/home-buyers, I can only restate the problems with such a plan as outlined by the mayor and other councilmembers.

The idea that all citizens should shoulder the cost of housing subsidies (rather than burden landlords with it) has been voiced by councilmember Colleen Clay. Some think this is disingenuous because they think most citizens would balk at such an added tax burden. They also think this is a sly plan to reframe the discussion and to change the city’s affordable housing program from one that has landlords subsidizing poor tenants to one that has city taxpayers subsidizing affluent landlords.

But, that’s beside the point. Taxpayer subsidization for renters and home-buyers won’t work as well or as cheaply as rent control. The costs would skyrocket because we taxpayers would have to pay for the new city staff positions required to administer such a program. We would have to create new bureaucratic, intrusive renter and homeowner application procedures. There would be huge waiting lists and arguments about who should be prioritized. There would have to be yearly reviews of renters to insure they were still “deserving” enough for their subsidies. What a monumental (and expensive) headache! So what if the current rent control allows some “undeserving” renters in*. As the mayor said, ANY system will have problems missing the “target” population, and rent stabilization is the best available tool the city has.
As the mayor also said, if you have an alternative plan, let’s see it – in detail.

Your pal,
– Gilbert

*”Undeserving renters,” ha!

OK, you bean-counter types who base your criticisms of rent control on scary hidden costs to taxpayers. You say the hidden costs are the result of lowered property values of both homeowners’ landlords’ properties. You say the low-income cachet of the rental housing brings down the value of the rental properties, meaning that landlords are not taxed as highly as they would otherwise be. Therefore homeowners have to pay higher taxes to make up for the shortfall, according to you. Also, the presence of low-income housing in the community brings down all property values, meaning that homeowners won’t get as much for their houses when they eventually sell.

First of all, my message to those who obsess that every rental property, chain-link fence, and unpainted shutter in the neighborhood means they won’t get absolute top dollar out of their eventual home sale is, “get a life!”

Second, if the proximity of low-income rental property is lowering your property values, then you, too are paying lower taxes.
Third, if rents are free of control and they rise to “market value” -the maximum amount landlords figure they can squeeze out of affluent renters – it would be bad for the economy! Picture a community in which renters and homeowners alike are paying such high rents and mortgage installments, they can’t afford to do anything but sit at home, eat rice and beans, and play Monopoly by candlelight. If everyone is rent- and mortgage-poor, nobody will shop at local stores, the economy will collapse, wipe out the commercial tax-base, and then taxpayers will REALLY have a tax burden.

So with our system of rent control we may get a few “undeserving” renters in the city, but they are spending their extra cash here, shoring up the local economy. And, so are you homeowners! If rent control really is depressing property values, homeowners should be thankful that it is keeping not only their taxes, but their mortgage payments lower. If you bean-counter’s homes were transported to Bethesda (you wish, I’m sure), you couldn’t afford the mortgage!.

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "GLOG – Affluence Influence"

  1. A starbucks is being moved into Old Town, what can we do about it? How is it possible to stop the landowner to lease his space to a corporation.

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