GRANOLAPARK: Tornado bait

IMAGE: The “tiny house” on display last week in Takoma Junction was cited as a possible affordable housing option. Photo by Bill Brown.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

This is the second half of Granolpark’s coverage of the unusual city council meeting held last Wednesday, June 1 in the Takoma Park Recreation Center gymnasium on New Hampshire Avenue. As reported in last week’s column, a big audience, around 70 people, turned out for the meeting, the only city council meeting ever held there.

Renters’ issues came up in the citizen comment session. This was relevant to the council’s affordable housing policy work session later on the evening’s agenda.

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City Audio/Visual Specialist John Pitt works a camera at the June 1 city council meeting. Photo by Bill Brown.

News you can use

In her public comments, city manager Suzanne Ludlow alerted the council and public to yet another pool battle. As Seth Grimes reported in his One Takoma column last December, the county school system has a  boom in its bonnet – too many future students, not enough classrooms. Their choice is to make the students smaller – not a popular option with the parents – or make the schools bigger.

This would include Takoma Park’s own Piney Branch Elementary School on Maple Avenue – and the way to make it bigger is to demolish the beloved The Piney Branch Public Pool to build more classrooms. There have been almost yearly battles to save the pool from being closed.

Other news you can use: the city will present a first-time homebuyers class Saturday, June 25, 8:30 a.m. Taking the class is a prerequisite to qualify for county/state financial assistance. To register, call Monique Anderson, Program Assistant at 301-891-7119 or 301-891-7219.

Melting ice

We need an affordable housing policy, says the city council, but we don’t know what it is yet. It’s undefined, unidentifiable, but potentially great – like the thing scientists find encased in glacial ice in a certain movie genre. They have to slowly thaw the ice until the object inside becomes clear. In the movies it turns out to be an alien who likes people – for breakfast.

In this case the city council hopes it will be a program to help income-challenged people live in our Azalea City. It could be round-about. It might be a program to assist landlords to fix housing code-violations.

After all, this was at least partly sparked by city landlord Warren Holmes who ran for mayor last fall. He spelled out the rent control consequences that most residents don’t see – and don’t want to see.

For example, rent control is great for renters, but when rents are kept low, landlords can’t afford to make repairs, which means the buildings fall apart and renters live in bad conditions. Which is not great for renters.

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Vineda Myers reads the Takoma Park Renters Protection Group statement to the city council, June 1. Photo by Bill Brown.

This came up earlier in the meeting during the citizen comment session. Vineda Myers, representing the Takoma Park Renters Protection Group, asked the city to investigate why many rental properties are allowed to deteriorate and remain in violation of city housing code. Renters want the city to enforce the codes, she said.

That request was answered later in the affordable housing work session. Sending inspectors to investigate code violations, said Councilmember Fred Shultz, will not improve renters’ conditions if the landlord can’t afford to fix them.

Perhaps because Holmes helped make that side of rent control a campaign discussion, the city had a big workshop on affordable housing early this year. There were many viewpoints expressed, so there was no consensus on what the city might do about affordable housing. A vague form was seen deep within the ice-block, but it was impossible to make out details.

But the council thought the subject vital enough to flop $400,000 down at spring budget time for an as-yet-undefined affordable housing policy.

At the June 1 meeting the council members all switched on their little blow-dryers and started to melt the ice, each seeing something a bit different from his or her side of the block.

Councilmember Fred Schultz saw using the $400,000 to leverage matching county and state affordable-housing grants.

Councilmember Jarrett Smith saw the city using the money right away for loans to small-scale landlords to fix up their properties.

Other suggestions included helping first-time homebuyers, using eminent domain to seize abandoned properties and selling them to medium-income homeowners, and tiny houses.

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The tiny house. Photo by Bill Brown.

No more yard sales

They were all agog about the tiny house on display in the city’s Takoma Junction lot. Apparently this tiny house has its own tv show and is on tour.

It looks pretty much like a hipster mobile home to us. What’s the difference between a community of tiny homes and a mobile home park? They both look like tornado bait.

And if everyone lived in tiny homes there would be no yard sales anymore. There’s no room in there to save stuff for a yard sale, and no room to put stuff bought at a yard sale. Thrift stores would go out of business. E-bay would fail. The entire used-goods market would crash. Your Gilbert would be forced to go to godawful MALLS and buy expensive NEW things. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

The development of an affordable housing policy coincides with the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development reorganization, beginning next fiscal year. Combining the department’s four divisions into one will allow it to focus better on affordable housing, said Sarah Daines, the department’s director.

Councilmember Tim Male had an interesting idea. He’d like to see a chart showing how much long-time residents paid for their homes and what they are worth now. Your Gilbert would be embarrassed. We bought the Granolapark bunker – which was then just a cave accessed via a storm drain –  back in 1979 from a raccoon for a bag of acorns. It is now worth $1,250,000. Real estate in Takoma Park is crazy.

Let’s all go to the lobby

Hot, diggity, the June 1 meeting included the city council’s legislative briefing time! Did you know that the city has a lobbyist? It has a lobbyist firm, actually, the Public Policy Partners. They keep an eye out for legislation that could muck up the city. And they promote legislation the city wants passed.

Right now, that would be a bill giving municipalities greater control over utilities’ digging projects, the sort that disrupt neighborhoods with no warning and that dig up roads that were just replaced following another utility digging project. Instigated on the city’s behalf, other municipalities think it is a dandy idea, so it might get somewhere.

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Photo by Bill Brown.

Other legislation they are following would allow free-standing emergency facilities. That’s a biggie in Takoma Park. The city’s only hospital is leaving and everyone would like it to set up a facility to take the place of their departing emergency room. Right now, the Washington Adventist Hospital can’t promise to do that, state law wouldn’t allow it.

The lobbyist is following any legislation that would affect development on New Hampshire Avenue, or affordable housing (such as any matching-funds grants). The lobbyist is also following efforts to override the governor’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

The mayor asked the lobby partnership to also focus on election legislation that would help the city combine ballots in forthcoming elections. Councilmember Fred Schultz asked.

Public Policy Partners lead parter Michele Douglas announced at the June 1 meeting that she’s semi-retiring and her colleagues Ann Ciekot, and Robyn Elliot will be taking over most of the work.

– Gilbert

 

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About the Author

Gilbert
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 "GRANOLAPARK: Tornado bait"

  1. I recommend the homebuyers class. I attended in 2010 when I was renting near Takoma Junction. It ran from 8:30 to 1:00, but they managed to squeeze in continental breakfast, snacks, juice and coffee, snacks, and pizza for lunch. It was free for anyone even though only about 6 of the 70 participants said that they were from Takoma Park. I think that they now charge non-residents $20, but it’s still free for residents.

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