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The American Dream?

By: Dr. Michael Asante
Planner Coordinator, Research
Prince George’s County Planning Department

     One of the many challenges PlanPGC2035 and the county needs to address is housing affordability. Even though, overall, the price of housing in Prince George’s is the lowest in the Washington DC area, many residents cannot afford a home without living a great distance from their jobs. At the moment, around four out of ten households in the county spend 30% or more of their total income to pay for rent or mortgage, utilities, homeowner association fees, insurance and other expenses. In fact, some spend as high as 50%of their income. The condition is worse if we include the cost of transportation, especially for those that live far from their jobs. So, the question is: what can the county do to make sure there are a variety of housing types (apartments, condo rentals, townhouses, small single family homes) at prices all of our current and future residents can afford no matter what their incomes and lifestyles are? 

     One can imagine many people thinking that it is the poor people living in old housing and declined neighborhoods that face this problem. But current census data shows that almost half of all households in the county making $50,000 or more per year are having difficulty paying for housing. This includes close to a third of those making more than $75,000 a year. Granted that there are many tenants and homeowners in our region dealing with high housing cost, the proportion in our county is rather high compared to others, meaning that we urgently need to figure out a way to reduce the problem.

     There is a close connection between the ability to pay for housing and the chances for economic prosperity in our county. If many of our residents are constantly struggling to pay for housing, they will have little or no extra money to pay for other needs such as food, clothing, healthcare, and entertainment.  Aside from such people having a low quality of life, they cannot help to support local businesses. As a result, our local businesses will not have the customer base needed to grow, employ additional people, and pay the taxes the county needs to provide good schools, police and fire stations, good roads, parks and community centers and all the other services and amenities we all need.

The bottom line is that the county needs to do something to stop the present housing affordability situation from getting worse. This is one of the issues Planning Department staff will deal with the next several months.

Please join the discussion and give us the benefit of your comments and suggestions.

Read the housing policy paper for more information in the connection between housing and the county’s future prosperity.

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What kind of a community does Prince George’s want to be? How do we map a strategy and what role do key issues such as economic development, transit, and infrastructure play in how we get there? Learn More >>