With County Executive and County Council up for grabs, Montgomery County is already falling behind

Fears about “losing out to NoVA” might just be real

No election season is complete without a few insults. Chief among the criticisms of most of the local elected class is that the economic vitality of Montgomery County hasn’t kept up with DC or NoVA. Of course, this is seemingly absurd given that the median income is $55,643.

This has been observed before, but seemingly it hasn’t been a big issue in MoCo circles.

There are likely some that would choose slower growth and control over change, but most people still want the growth.

A dollar in your pocket or in your kids school is almost always looked on fondly. Even if you don’t like all of the new buildings, even the most NIMBY of voter usually wants to top off the 401k.

The data proving decline

Surprisingly the new wealth found in Arlington wasn’t always this way, in fact, the county actually used to be less wealthy than MoCo. Around the mid-2000s the incomes of NoVA picked up, and never really slowed down after eclipsing the competition. MoCo is only about a quarter of the size, but the consistently mediocre growth should be concerning to anyone who cares about things like keeping unemployment down, reducing povery, and tax revenue.

It is perfectly fine to have concerns about growth or want to do it more effectively, but not being able to keep up or create good things for the million people living in Montgomery County should be a wake up call to anyone who wants to do business or live in the community.

Interestingly, even though people are on average getting wealthier, but they’re growing equitably too.

The levels of inequality in both did increase, but even with all of that growth in NoVA, MoCo only ended up about as unequal as NoVA was in the very first place.

Building Camelot

The two differing paths to growth are, unsurprisingly, tied to how the communities literally grow. NoVa’s growth has been freewheeling, much to the dismay of shadow enthusiasts everywhere.

Even with that mildly liberal growth in Arlington, and less than a quarter of the population, the county has permitted about the same number of housing units. Real estate shouldn’t be everything, but being able to have adequate housing at a reasonable rate is absolutely key to not only residential real estate, but corporate too.

Even with clear evidence that Montgomery County is stagnating, some people truly would prefer it that way.

There have been efforts to streamline reasonable development, but so far they have largely been unsuccessful.

One of the largest and most visible projects to this end is Thrive 2050. It is a general plan aimed at improving livability and growth in the county. And like any change to zoning or the endless font of free parking, people are outraged.

While MoCo is severely underproducing housing relative to NoVa, it wouldn’t seem like it was reality given the harsh reactions to even a little bit of growth oriented reform on the part of Thrive.

In fact, much of the vitriol against growth is coming explicitly from homeowners who feel threatened by more diverse housing choices, as well as the financial benefit of harsh zoning which makes new housing de facto illegal.

N.B.-the ones with the million dollar home price are the ones that don’t want more homes.

People are policy

So even with the decline in relative wealth of MoCo, and the slowing housing production, there are truly some people who would still rather managed stasis. The choice to lock out growth and young people just to preserve some sense of the world moving timelessly into the future is certainly something, but it won’t actually increase the wealth of the county.

As the upcoming elections both for County Executive and County Council approach, it is unfortunate that regardless of who wins, much of the local leadership as well as populace are more interested in stagnation over growth and change.

Most cities would give their right leg to be abutting DC. Even in the DC region, there are neighborhoods and cities that fail to keep up.

At a certain point, employers and residents will get tired of the efforts to retard growth, and some will leave.

It may not be dramatic, and it may not be overnight, but incumbents like MoCo have already been supplanted by more open policies to growth in NoVA.

There will be a large cohort of people in the upcoming election doing everything they can to preserve, stabilize, and slow down the future of Montgomery County.

Frankly this mindset might even be the most prevalent one in MoCo, but at some of the greatest costs possible.

Are a few new apartments really worth earning 12% less? Or soaring inequality?