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Anne Arundel County Council passes controversial workforce housing bill, defeats bill preventing substantial rent increases

An emergency bill that would have protected Anne Arundel County renters from substantial rent increases during the global coronavirus pandemic failed in the county council Tuesday night after the body’s four Democrats failed to convince one of their Republican colleagues to vote in support for the supermajority needed to pass emergency legislation.

The vote was one of three party-line votes of the meeting — a Republican-sponsored bill that would have doubled the limit to the county’s Revenue Reserve Fund failed, and a bill that would exempt a Low-Income Tax-Credit housing facility from having to meet adequate school facility requirements passed.

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Workforce housing

The bill from Councilwoman Sarah Lacey, D-Jessup, will allow workforce housing facilities with the state’s Low Income Tax Credit designation to be exempt from having to pass an Adequate School Facilities test if it was for a facility of fewer than 50 units. Only two Anne Arundel properties were awarded the credit in 2018, and only one was selected in 2019.

The bill was inspired by development in Lacey’s hometown: Brock Bridge Landing, a proposed 38-unit townhome community, and its developer Woda Cooper Cos. Inc., received the tax credit award in 2018. When Woda Cooper applied, all the necessary schools were open, but by the time the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development announced the winners, one of the necessary schools was closed, Lacey said. They were unable to continue development.

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The bill would allow the proposed development — and others that also meet the conditions — to build anyway, by allowing them to exceed the county-determined School Utilization Chart school capacity limits by 3% for elementary and middle schools and 5% for high schools. This only applies if the schools were open when they had applied for the program or at the time the developer did the adequate public facilities test with the county.

Many of the 88 county residents who weighed in Tuesday night were in opposition, as were many of the nearly 400 who weighed in two weeks ago. Many voiced similar concerns as the Republicans on the council, who said they couldn’t support any bill that might increase crowding in schools.

Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan Rodvien, D-Annapolis, spoke in support of the bill from her experience as a teacher in the Anne Arundel County Public School System.

“As a teacher, I’ve seen students who’ve had to deal with homelessness, they’ve had to deal with not having a regular place to sleep at night,” Rodvien said. “To me this bill is about providing affordable housing. It’s not about overdevelopment, it’s about allowing people that already live in the county to have a decent and affordable place to live.”

Restrictions on rent increases

A bill that would have put a 3% limit on how much a landlord can increase rent during the state’s catastrophic health emergency failed, though it is likely not the last hope for renters in Anne Arundel County. Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, said he plans to bring the bill back, next time not as an emergency bill and hopes to pass it to protect renters from what he said was “price gouging."

“I think we need to protect Anne Arundel County residents from certain landlords, not all, that are trying to profit off of people,” Pruski said.

Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, said she was opposed to the idea of government getting involved in private contractual situations.

Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, said he was concerned about taking any action that is connected to a third party, and took issue with the timing of the bill being related to Gov. Larry Hogan’s declaration of a catastrophic health emergency.

The legislation was sponsored by three of the council’s four Democrats but failed to gain the support of at least one Republican in order to pass as an emergency bill. If Pruski brings it back as a regular bill, it will only require four votes to pass, but it won’t have the benefit of the accelerated timeline, and would not go into effect immediately after being signed by the county executive if passed.

Rainy Day Fund

An effort by the council’s minority party to double the amount of the county’s Revenue Reserve Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, was unsuccessful. Volke, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he thought it would help the county’s bond ratings to grow the Rainy Day Fund and would be good to increase the county’s safety net should the economy continue to suffer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It doesn’t commit the county to doing anything, it simply raises the ceiling on the ability to put money away in case the bad times come, and they may be coming,” Volke said.

The Rainy Day Fund is currently capped at 5% with the rainy day fund near that cap at $80 million.

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County Executive Steuart Pittman’s senior adviser Chris Trumbauer said he thinks it would be better to be able to tell the bond rating agencies that the county is near its current cap, rather than less than halfway to the cap.

Council Chair Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie, said she did not see the Rainy Day Fund even reaching the 5% cap in the current budget. She said she would be open to further considering how the fund is calculated, but that it is not an emergency.

“It’s raining. It is raining now. We’re not looking ahead to an economic downturn, we’re in a recession," Pickard said. “We are in a pretty serious economic downturn.”

If passed, the emergency bill would have taken effect before the council passed the budget. Rodvien said she worried about putting any money away that could be used to help residents who are suffering due to the coronavirus: “We should not be taking our liquidity and stashing it away in a place where it helps no one."

In other business, the council also debated a bill that would provide tax credits to 9-1-1 specialists, which would provide benefits similar to those received by other public safety officers under current law. The bill was amended to remove the administrative fee to participate in the program. Though this fee currently applies to other public safety officers who are eligible for the tax credits, Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, said she would sponsor legislation to remove the fee for other first responders as well. The bill will be heard again on June 15.

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