Panel Explores Ways to Improve Community
What can we do to reduce housing cost burdens, increase affordable homeownership opportunities, and build stronger community connections in Takoma Park? About 35 community members gathered at Heffner Community Center on Thursday November 18 for a panel discussion and community forum to suggest answers.
Takoma Park City Councilmember Terry Seamens called for more vigilance in maintaining the affordable housing and suggested that we can reduce the housing cost burden for homeowners by reducing their property tax burden.
Hank Prensky, a local realtor, pointed out that there are more affordable home ownership opportunities than people think. He suggested looking for better ways to make information on housing opportunities available, and finding ways for potential homeowners to get help with their down payment.
Linda Walker, representing the City’s Department of Housing and Community Development, reported on current policy and efforts to keep rents low through rent stabilization and utilizing other affordable housing programs and nonprofit housing providers. She suggested ways to increase residents’ income by increasing their earning capacity through access to employment, education, financial literacy, and more. She also suggested that the City may be able to increase affordable rental opportunities by making it easier for homeowners to create accessory apartments. This was an idea the County brought up several years ago as a way to increase rental units and provide extra income to homeowners.
Takoma Park City Councilmember Colleen Clay called for a paradigm shift in how renters and landlords look at how we provide and manage housing. We need to create a better balance of jobs and housing. Her ideas included housing cooperatives, and a land banking approach where residents own land in common, but individual households own their own homes. She also suggested creating a rotating down payment loan fund, and increasing budget resources on affordable housing from both the City and the County.
Tebabu Assefa, a local community activist, was doubtful that housing costs would come down or current residents’ incomes would go up in the short term. What we can change now is our perception of how we see our homes in the context of community. If we don’t know our neighbors then we don’t feel at home until we get past our own front door. This makes our home feel small. However, if we know and feel connected to our neighbors, then we feel at home as soon as we enter the community. This makes us feel we live in a much larger and abundant space. And our collaborative power can allow us to do more than we can imagine.
The community discussion brought additional ideas (see below for a list of ideas)
Bernice North suggested that we have mentoring programs to connect people one-on-one to match people who have knowledge and skills to people who can learn from them. For example, a person can mentor another on how to buy a house. “People will stay if they have connections,” she said.
Jeff Trunzo suggested that Takoma Park might increase its tax base by annexing neighboring areas, especially the areas that are benefiting from City services.
Below is a list of suggested actions. CHEER is still collecting ideas and will investigate ideas identified by the community as worthy of further development. If you have an idea or want to support or comment on an idea already mentioned you may add a comment to this blog post, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reducing cost burdens
Better information on existing government assistance
Down payment assistance.
Lower cost rental options
Single rooms in group homes
Cooperative housing models/shared space
Provide support to burdened households through free food distribution and other ways to reduce household costs
Help people earn higher incomes
Financial literacy and financial management classes
Community common space
Access county resources
Annex neighboring areas (bigger tax base)
Land owned in common
Individuals owning housing
Rotating down payment fund or other structure
use the city borrowing capacity
City/County budget for affordable housing
Improve access to information on affordable homeownership opportunities
Look for creative ways to facilitate private financing of downpayments.
Programs for whole community
Focus on issues of common concern
Locally/neighborhood based groups
Develop new community leadership (among groups not currently represented)
Neighborhood social events
Build onto currently strong local groups, expand to new areas
People who keep up with what is going on in neighborhood/building
Integrate people of higher incomes
Work with other levels of government
Mentoring Programs (one-on-one relationships)
Common social space