While knocking on doors during the election campaign, I indicated to many of you that I hoped to have a conversation over the next two years about development and the long-term future of the city.  The quality of our schools should be a big part of this discussion.

One in three homes in Takoma Park include young children and Maryland's schools are among the best in the country.  We currently have 2,008 children in Takoma Park Middle School, Elementary School and Piney Branch Elementary School and another 850 in Rolling Terrace Elementary.  The Middle School is overcapacity today and projected to stay that way through 2018.  Rolling Terrace170 more students today than its capacity of 672 students.  Takoma Park Elementary is overcapacity and projected to stay that way for at least 2 more years. 

During an earlier discussion about redevelopment along New Hampshire Avenue and University Avenue, especially associated with the Purple Line, I asked City staff for some hypothetical projections of what our school population would look like if residential development were fully built out as envisioned in the Takoma Langley Crossroads Sector Plan.  I've attached the document provided by our staff here - it is full of interesting information.
 
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City staff estimate that full construction of projected residential space envisioned under the plan would create housing for more than 6,200 new residents, including 900 more K-12 students.  Obviously that is just a projection and reality never quite comes out that way.  But given the school crowding we already have, where would even another 200 students go? 

For me, our past County Councils have been too focused on development as simply more dense buildings, and not enough on quality of life issues like schools and traffic.  I've also heard others express criticism of the County Council for investing far more in building new and improving
old schools in the upper and western parts of the County and less down here.  I'd like to see us get more investments in school construction before NH Avenue or University Avenue projects start breaking ground.  Especially since many of our schools are already beyond their capacity. 

Are there ways to get more development (like the construction of the new transit center on University Ave and nearby services) including some more housing without creating worse traffic and school crowding?  I hope we can find ways to do so.... and that you will join me in asking candidates who want to be part of our County Council how they are going to deal with questions like these.  Concrete answers rather than simplistic statements like 'transit-smart mixed use development' are at least part of what I hope to hear about from candidates.


*note, these school enrollment statistics are approximate; I've found slightly varying numbers in County, city and online resources. 



 
 
I've tried to keep learning as much as I can about Takoma Park while serving on City Council, but sometimes I wish information was more accessible.  For example, this information about demographics from the U.S. Census. 

Since 2000, Takoma Park has been a 'majority minority' community.  The 2010 census shows that more than 30% of our residents are born overseas, 60% of whom are not (or not yet) U.S. citizens.  Almost half of foreign-born residents arrived in the U.S. just since 2000.  In Takoma Park, 45% of businesses are Hispanic- or black-owned (20% higher than the rest of the county).  Half our population lives in rental housing - 50% of those homes are covered by the city's rent control policies and another 40% are managed by an affordable housing provider.  One-third of our population lives alone.

Takoma Park is going through a baby boom - one-third of homes include a child or teenager under 18.  One in four residents are under the age of 18 and another one in five are between the ages of 18-35.  Although they make up 21% of our population, 18-35 year olds were only 7% of all city voters in 2011.  The chart below shows the city's age distribution from the latest census in green and the age of voters from the most recent city election (2011) in purple.




 
 
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Buildings that have been part of property tax abatement efforts to improve housing and lower costs.
There are lots of ways a City government can help maintain the diversity of housing in a community - Takoma Park's rent control policy for some rental housing is one example and the work of the Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs is another. 

Since at least 2005, the City has been quietly running one more program that helps incentivize improvements in lower income housing, including improvements that may create future savings for tenants.  Payment in Lieu of Taxes or 'PILOT' is a program that allows non-profit lower incoming housing providers to apply to the City for the temporary relief of a portion of a building's property taxes as a way for the non-profit to help finance building improvements.  For example, the Council just approved a project with Essex House on Maple Avenue that will allow the non-profit to replace all of the building's air conditioners (chillers), boilers and water heaters and make other upgrades, seeking to get a 20-25% reduction in total energy use in the building.

As part of the financing to make this possible, for Essex House, the Council agreed to lower property taxes for four years between 2013 and 2016 for a total contribution of $95,000. 

Between 2005-2020, the City has or will provide approximately $670,000 in property tax relief (abatement) for lower income buildings and partnerships undertaking such projects -  this covers 12 buildings so far (see graph). 


I think this program represents one of the quietest facets of Takoma Park's multi-front effort to maintain the socioeconomic diversity of our community. 


 
 
This is a worthwhile story to read about shifts in housing in Takoma Park, published last week in the Takoma Voice.  CHEER - Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research has published a graph that shows the increase in high income residents.