On Sunday, June 16, the Washington Post published a letter to the editor from Gaithersburg resident Katherine Gugulis that is riddled with racist and classist assertions. Gugulis was protesting the county’s proposed plan to loosen restrictions on building accessory apartments (also known as Accessory Dwelling Units, Auxiliary Dwelling Units, or ADUs).
Like most of the region, the county faces a severe housing shortage, and allowing add-on units like basement apartments or garage conversions would provide lower-cost homes for people who badly need them. And that appears to be the issue. Gugulis’ short letter is filled with harmful segregationist language, concluding with, “Just because others flee crime-ridden and poverty-stricken areas doesn’t mean Montgomery County has to be turned into a slum to accommodate them.” Phew.
Gugulis is a newly-appointed Republican representative to the Montgomery County’s Charter Review Commission, which gives recommendations on how the county government is structured. She was recommended by County Executive Marc Elrich, who has been an outspoken critic of accessory apartments. On Monday, June 17 Elrich submitted a letter to the County Council recommending more restrictions and higher taxes on such housing.
The Maryland Sierra Club responded to Gugulis’ letter on Monday with a pointed one of its own:
“We condemn the harmful and hateful language that Ms. Gugulis used, and believe it does not reflect our county’s values. Ms. Gugulis’ letter includes harmful racial and economic stereotypes that have historically been used to keep our communities segregated.”— Maryland Sierra Club (@sierraclubmd) June 17, 2019
The Action Committee for Transit responded on Twitter with examples of that not-“decent” housing:
Today we read in the @washingtonpost that ADUs are a slap in the face to hard-working people and will turn #MoCo into a slum.@RentersRights @AARPMD @GCAARNow @HabitatMM @sierraclubmd @hansriemer @MoCoCouncilMD pic.twitter.com/eD1C0MOGJ7— ACT for Transit (@actfortransit) June 17, 2019
Here’s what some of our contributors have to say:
Editorial Board member Dan Reed points out that the sentiments the writer expressed are all too common:
I can only thank her for being upfront about her feelings regarding accessory apartments, and by extension, people who are struggling to afford housing in our county. This fight has really revealed how Montgomery County still struggles with social equity - something the County Executive says he supports, and yet I saw many of his (incorrect) arguments against accessory apartments repeated almost verbatim in this woman’s letter.
Editorial Board member Joanne Tang says,
This op-ed is full of racist language and it’s just so rage inducing to see these attitudes. If you want to be selfish and you don’t want to help anyone, no one is forcing you to. But the role of government is not the same as a private resident, and the government has a responsibility to plan and provide for all of its residents. It’s an undeniable good that more housing and more flexibility will help current and future residents. Denying people assistance is irresponsible governance.
Canaan Merchant gave a detailed breakdown of the issues in Gugulis’ letter:
This person is so far removed from the facts I’m not sure there’s a point in responding, but I nearly went line by line anyway.
“For most people, their home is their biggest investment.”
Which is why we must do what we can from people capitalizing on their investment by subdividing it in some way.
“Allowing campers, trailers and storage containers to be put in a neighbor’s backyard to house low-income residents is a slap in the face to those people who have worked hard to build a comfortable home and neighborhood”
Other zoning and building code rules wouldn’t let those specific structures through. So if that’s the issue, then I’m glad to say that it’s all resolved. Pack it up and let’s go home early.
“It is a sham to suggest that this is being done to provide housing for aging parents or adult children. Most people provide space in their homes, even if it means putting an addition onto their home, for family members.”
So building housing for family members is bad, except when it’s not.
“The council should instead lift some of the onerous restrictions on developers to encourage them to build decent and affordable housing.”
Onerous restrictions on developers is bad. Onerous restrictions on your neighbor’s ability to rent out part of their home or property is good.
“Just because others flee crime-ridden and poverty-stricken areas doesn’t mean Montgomery County has to be turned into a slum to accommodate them.”
And here’s the real issue. This lady isn’t worried about Montgomery County or her neighbors. She’s just trying to ‘protect her investment’ through segregation.
Those words are just so obviously racially tinged that you can’t let someone get away with it. Call it a slum, call it a ghetto, call it the hood, it’s all the same and it means you like segregation. If the fear of new neighbors makes you want to sell your house, even at a loss, then I don’t know why I’m supposed to feel bad. This is just uninformed panic with a bunch of unsupported claims. It’s almost literally a reprint of this.
The government isn’t your private security agency, Rahul Sinha points out:
There are many people that think the government should help less fortunate residents. There are many people who think the government shouldn’t interfere with personal property rights, even if it’s to help the less fortunate.
What is truly amazing is that apparently there are people who think the government should interfere with personal property rights to prevent those property owners from helping the less-fortunate. The government is not a private security agency for the rich.
Plus, building accessory apartments can actually RAISE property value, Dave Murphy says:
Where to start? “Most people” are not homeowners. That’s why this law is up for debate in the first place. There is not enough housing for the people of Montgomery County. The author cites declining tax revenue, but doesn’t seem to want more taxpaying citizens in her town.
She also cites RVs and storage crates as eyesores, but this sort of thing is easily mitigated through design restrictions, which I imagine few people would not want. There is no empirical evidence cited to suggest that ancillary units would cause property values to decline.
I hope to improve my home to include an ancillary unit because I believe it will RAISE my property value. Granted I live in a row home in DC and not a McMansion in Gaithersburg, but the lack of solid evidence or examples of ancillary units hurting property values renders this argument rather impotent.
Finally, Tracy Loh adds,
Simply ALLOWING HOUSING TO BE BUILT is not a form of public assistance for low income people. It is enabling a natural market response to meet a normal need of a diverse population.
Readers: What are your thoughts?