Here is a link to the June 1 City Council Agenda: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2016/council-aganda-20160601-rev1.pdf
A few preliminary notes:
I am traveling this coming week, so I will not be at the Council meeting. The scheduled vote on the Area B Parking Permit Ordinance will be postponed until the following week, meaning that there will be no votes this coming week. The Council will be discussing three important issues:
Legislative Priorities and State Legislation to be Proposed to the Maryland Municipal League (MML); Follow-up to the Community Conversation on Affordable Housing Policy; and Proposed Revisions to the Community Grants Program. I will be viewing the video of the Council meeting when I am back in town so I can get the full flavor of the discussion on these issues, along with any public comments.
This is the first of several discussions on this topic, with our final recommendations for MML to be made most likely in the summer. Among the issues that affect us as a municipality on which I would like to see action are: requiring state or regional utilities like PEPCO and WSSC to do a better job of informing communities in advance when they are doing construction or road work and working collaboratively with communities to schedule such work; providing assistance to communities to address affordable housing (see also below); and helping cities deal with County tax duplication issues.
The City’s inaugural Community Conversation on February 6 was an excellent opportunity to hear from a wide range of residents and outside experts about how the City can best approach the issue of affordable housing. At that discussion, and in a subsequent National League of Cities panel I attended, one of the things that became clear was that, even though housing affordability is heavily affected by national and regional trends, individual communities (even those that are not large, like Takoma Park) can take affirmative steps to promote affordable housing.
I would like to see us take action to increase the supply of affordable rental units for lower income residents and families; to expand the stock of affordable home ownership and rental opportunities for young families who may wish to move to the City; and to help existing owners remain in their homes or downsize and stay in Takoma Park. Each of these ideas requires different strategies, and tax policy and economic development plans also come into play. So, there will have to be plenty of additional discussions beyond the June 1 Council meeting.
I’m pleased that one aspect of the June 1 discussion will likely be the new Housing Reserve Fund or Trust Fund that we took the first step to establish in the budget we adopted earlier this month. I was a strong supporter of the budget provision that called for an initial installment of $400,000 for this fund. That’s a start, and we may decide to increase it and/or seek matching County or State monies. But, I think setting up the fund to be able to be used as flexibly as possible will help give us the tools to begin to make progress in this area. And, as noted above, we will need to be creative when it comes to economic development and tax policy, ideally in ways that complement the choices we make about how to use the housing fund. I look forward to working with my Council colleagues on this set of issues, and I would be interested in hearing any thoughts Ward One residents may have as well.
This discussion is aimed at revising the City’s approach to community grants. We had an earlier discussion about refocusing the goals of our grant program, and as Councilmembers we also filled out a form indicating our preferences (which you can view through the link above). My general orientation is toward focusing our grants more on programs that are designed to benefit lower income residents and under-served communities.
One of the recommendations under consideration is to shift Federal Community Development Block Grant funds so they would be used exclusively for capital projects rather than also using them for programmatic purposes. I don’t object in principle to that change, but I would want to ensure that there is a corresponding increase in the other grant programs for disadvantaged groups (including for example developmentally disabled residents), which may be in line for CDBG funds.
I would also note that, while the grid included in the above link that shows categories of organizations to which we would like to direct grants indicates that I am against grants going to “business associations," that was an error on my part in filling out the form. I do support grants being made to organizations like the Old Town Business Association or the Crossroads Development Authority.
As always, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One