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Instead of ROI, This Public Housing Project Is Focused on the Public Good

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Instead of ROI, This Public Housing Project Is Focused on the Public Good

A federal housing program in Maryland recently unveiled The Laureate, an affordable apartment complex that houses those making less than the area’s median income

August 25, 2023
Closeup of apartment building exterior
Image: nd700 / stock.adobe.com

Montgomery County, Md., like so many other housing markets across the U.S., faces a worsening housing crisis characterized by soaring prices and limited supply. The Laureate public housing development aims to offer an affordable solution. The apartment building is 70% owned by a government agency and reserves 30% of its apartments for people who earn less than the area’s median income, The New York Times reports.

The project is the first building financed with a new $100 million fund from the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, a government agency that serves as the controlling owner. The H.O.C. acts as an investor that trades profits for lower rents to make affordable housing more readily available for those who need it.

“The private sector is focused on return on investment,” said Chelsea Andrews, H.O.C.’s executive director. “Our return is public good.”

Over the past half-century, the phrase “public housing” has become so stained by failure that the overwhelming impulse from lawmakers has been to run from it by creating programs that either demolish government-owned apartments or offload them to the private sector. Traditional public housing, financed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and operated by one of the nation’s roughly 3,300 public housing agencies, is locked in steady decline.

In Montgomery County, however, the stock of government-owned housing has steadily grown for decades while the definition of what it can be has expanded. The reason: In the Washington region, as in every other high-growth metropolitan area, the demand for affordable housing is way beyond what federal housing programs can provide. So the county tries to make up the gap.

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