Local Commentary

Editorial: Montgomery County’s Example of Courage

The unanimous action by the Montgomery County Council Tuesday to adopt zoning changes permitting the expansion of “auxiliary dwelling units” on existing residential properties was courageous in the face of major citizen protests over months. The decision also defied the recommendation by the county executive to delay action. Instead, the council members spoke eloquently to the need to establish means by which existing residents can age in place, and thousands of new affordable housing options be introduced into the jurisdiction.

We can hope that the Falls Church City Council and similar bodies representing other local jurisdictions across the land will pay particular attention to the values of the policy change and to the courage, both, involved in the Montgomery County council’s action this week.

We look forward to our Council taking up this matter this fall as one of a number of means available to address the deepening housing crisis assailing the City, the region, and the entire nation. It is a remedy that does not cost the City money and the evidence developed in Montgomery County shows that it will not impact property values or the quality of life of residents negatively. On the contrary, it will add to the vitality that the City has said it wants and augments the moves on mixed use developments in its commercial corridors to, among other things, keep the doors open at City restaurants and retailers.

There are two important points that need to be added. First, the housing changes are needed in the face of the growing discrepancy between the super rich and the rest of us in the U.S., with residential developers following market forces to meet the housing needs of the super rich at everyone else’s expense. Second, the changes bring about sorely-needed changes to redress what had become accepted housing practices for single family detached home neighborhoods that have the practical effect of racial discrimination, as Montgomery County councilmember Hans Riemer pointed out in the context of its unanimous action Tuesday.

We are in the era of the #MeToo insurgency of women and others against forms of discrimination that have been alive and well to the very present, and the insurgency continues to spread to touch into areas of cultural discrimination, prejudices and abuse that have been silently accepted even as laws have moved ahead toward justice and equality.

This is causing a freaking out by those who prefer to preserve the old ways, or who fear being brought to justice in the face of this new insurgency. But for most of us, it is refreshing to see the wave beginning to sweep away the vestiges of the Jim Crow racist counterrevolution of the post-Civil War era, which needs to continue to redress the ways in which zoning ordinances, among other things, have been used to perpetuate prejudicial practices.

So affordable housing and social justice really do represent one and the same issue.