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Preview: just up the pike

just up the pike

Updated: 2018-02-22T06:07:50.878-05:00


this video shows you how to find the right MCPS school for your family


There are over two hundred public schools in Montgomery County, and if you're picking a place to live, it often means comparing the schools in different neighborhoods. How can you find the right school for your family? This video shows you how.

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Recently, I interviewed Montgomery County board of education member Jill Ortman-Fouse about the best tools for learning about local public schools. While websites like assign each school a point rating based on test scores, they don't tell the full story.

Instead, Jill recommends taking a more hands-on approach. If you're curious about a school, schedule a visit, meet with the principal, or talk to neighbors whose kids attend that school. There are also a variety of online resources, including school websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages, that list events going on at each school and can provide a first-hand look at what happens there.

And of course, Montgomery County Public Schools has a website with lots of information as well. Schools at a Glance is their annual report of data about every school in the system, with everything from test scores to teacher statistics to building information.

Are you trying to pick a school in Montgomery County right now? Have you picked one in the past? What tools did you use?

housing and transportation are LGBTQ issues, and politicians need to recognize that


Just in time for this year’s elections, Montgomery County has a new LGBTQ political organization. Here’s why I’m hoping that the newly-formed Queer Democrats will look at access to housing and transportation.A pride flag outside a suburban house (though not in MoCo). Photo by mary on Flickr.I first came out in 2005. If you had told me then that today gay marriage would be legal in all 50 states, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would be repealed, and Virginia would elect a trans woman to the state legislature, I’d have said you were dreaming. Even with the 2016 presidential election, queer people have made tremendous strides. However, these things don’t guarantee that queer people can make a life for themselves.Writing in Slate, my friend and New York activist Andrea Bowen cited a study that trans people there are consistently poorer and face more food insecurity than their cisgender counterparts. “You can ban certain types of discrimination,” she writes, “but that doesn’t mean an oppressed population’s access to the things that make life good - say, food, income, or medical care - is actually going to improve.” There are challenges that LGBTQ people face across the United States, in finding work, finding economic stability, or finding a stable place to live: It’s harder for us to find jobs: queer adults are 21 to 47 percent more likely to face employment discrimination, and a study found that “observably gay” job applicants are 40% less likely to get called for a job interview.When queer people do find jobs, they get paid less than their straight counterparts. Gay men earn 10 to 32 percent less than their straight counterparts, and are more likely to be penalized for not being discreet about it (such as announcing that they live with a same-sex partner). Ironically, the income gap is largest in high-paying, prestigious jobs, not unlike those you’d find here in the DC area.It’s also harder for us to find housing: 15 percent of lesbian, gay, and bi people, and 19 percent of trans people, reported facing some discrimination in searching for housing. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ people comprise 10% of the homeless population, and 40% of the homeless youth population, as some young people are still rejected by their families for coming out.As a result, queer people are more likely to face economic insecurity. It’s hard to keep a job when you don’t have a stable place to live (or vice versa). Twenty percent of LGBT people (and one-third of trans people) around the US live below the poverty level, compared to just 17% of single straight people. Over a quarter of queer people faced food insecurity in 2015.This is something local governments can help solveEconomic insecurity isn’t an exclusively queer issues, but it’s an opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of queer people. It’s also something that local governments are uniquely suited to tackle. For instance, Montgomery County, like most local jurisdictions, is in charge of land use (which means where and how you can build housing) and transportation. And research shows that access to reliable, fast transportation is the leading indicator of getting ahead. For LGBTQ people who disproportionately face economic and social hardships, where you live, and what jobs you can get to, are crucial for your ability to live a good life. The lighter areas have shorter commutes, and tend to be more expensive. Image from WNYC.For example, here’s a map of commute times in Montgomery County. Not surprisingly, commute times are shortest around Bethesda, the county’s largest job center, and higher basically everywhere else. That access to jobs costs money, and in Montgomery County, communities near major job centers have seen their home values fully recover from the Great Recession and, in some cases, even rise above their 2004 levels. The median home value in the county is $420,000, putting even a modest home out of reach for many Montgomery County households. Meanwhile, further-out areas with less access to transit or jobs h[...]

“move to the cheaper area” is good individual advice, but not a solution to our housing shortage


As house prices around Washington have risen over the past few years, everyone from friends to real estate agents offer the same advice: “Have you considered a cheaper area?” However, this advice really only works for an individual person looking for a house. Applied to an entire city, county, or region, this advice doesn’t work very well.Wheaton may be more affordable than other parts of Montgomery County, but it's not guaranteed to stay that way. Image by the author.Last week, candidates for Montgomery County executive spoke to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, a group that represents real estate agents in the county and the District of Columbia. (Full disclosure: I am a member of GCAAR, though I didn’t attend the event.) As David Alpert wrote last week, each of the candidates were asked where they’d recommend a young couple making $100,000 per year should live in the county. Two of the candidates, Roger Berliner and David Blair, suggested that they look at Silver Spring or Wheaton.Would our hypothetical couple actually be able to do that? $100,000 seems like a lot of money and it is, though it’s actually a little lower than the county’s median household income of $100,352 per year. But what can they actually afford here?Does this advice work?A couple making $100,000 per year makes about $8,333 per month in monthly income before taxes. Most lenders require that homebuyers spend no more than 36 percent of their income on debt, and will subtract any other debts from that amount to get their mortgage payment. (That percentage is higher for government-backed FHA loans.) They’re just out of school, so let’s assume they each have $351 a month in student loan debt, which is the national average.That leaves a monthly payment of $2,250. Assuming they can produce a down payment of $20,000 (or five percent of the purchase price), they could afford a home of about $400,000. That’s just below the county’s median home value of $420,000, according to Bright MLS, the region's multiple listing service.A map of which zip codes have more homes for sale under $400,000. Data from Bright MLS. Image by the author. Click to make it bigger!And here’s where that advice works out: as of January 17, 2018, there are 389 homes in Montgomery County priced below $400,000 and with two or more bedrooms. Seventy-five of those homes, or about one out of five, are in zip code 20906, which (depending on who you ask) is part of Silver Spring, Wheaton, or neither. The Glenmont Metro station is at the very southern edge of this zip code, so most homes here aren't close enough to walk to it.Meanwhile, all of the other zip codes with a bunch of homes our hypothetical couple could afford are all in the Upcounty, further from jobs and other amenities. Zip code 20874 (Germantown) has 39 listings in their range, while zip code 20886 (Montgomery Village) has 35. Gaithersburg zip code 20878 has 25, while 20871 (Clarksburg) has 17.What if our hypothetical buyers wanted to look inside the Beltway? They’d still have a few choices. Zip code 20910 (downtown Silver Spring) has eight homes under $400,000, while 20814 (downtown Bethesda) has ten homes. 20902 (Wheaton and Forest Glen) has fourteen homes under $400,000. It's worth noting that most of these homes are condos.If I were working with one couple looking for one house, this would be great! They’d have a few choices of different neighborhoods and home styles and likely be able to find something that meets their needs.A graph of homes currently for sale in Montgomery County under $400,000, arranged by zip code. Data from Bright MLS. Image by the author.That said, much of the county would be off-limits to them. Most zip codes have only a handful of homes our couple could afford, and several have just one or two. Yet those are the areas that are close to transit, jobs, and sought-after schools.And of course, there isn’t just one couple, but thousands looking for a home in [...]

montgomery county bucks trends to become one of the dc area's fastest growing counties


Tuesday's announcement that Discovery Communications plans to close and sell its headquarters is a huge blow to Silver Spring, whose revitalization Discovery helped kickstart 20 years ago.
Discovery in 2010. Photo by the author.
Meanwhile, the edges of the city and inner suburbs are caught in the middle. Some are doing really well, while others struggle with growing poverty and disinvestment. You can already see this in our region. While this Census data only tells part of the story, it's a trend we'll have to watch in the coming years.