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Category: Economic opportunity

Equity and Opportunity in Montgomery County

Equity and Opportunity in Montgomery County

Our society is unequal, but of perhaps greater concern, it is inequitable. Synonyms for inequitable: biased, unfair, unbalanced, discriminatory. We need to redress past inequity. We need to ensure opportunity for all.

We must concern ourselves with discrimination, whether intended or not, associated with gender, race and ethnicity, geography, economic resources. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., injustice to any person and not just in any place.

Let’s think in terms of redress, having two senses: correction (of the underlying inequity) and compensation, noting that in many cases, those who are advantaged in an inequitable situation and wield power in that situation are not those who created the situation. We’re nonetheless duty-bound to address it.

  • Let’s ensure educational programming and spending that will close the achievement gap and, even better, prevent it from opening via universal pre-K and early learning opportunities.
  • Let’s address criminal-justice issues that have led to mass incarceration of African American and other minority youth and adults – end the school-to-prison pipeline – apply principles of restorative justice – boost reintegration into society.
  • Let’s recognize the role African Americans and other minorities have played in building our county and historic discrimination against women and LGBTQ neighbors: We aim for inclusion and balance and equitable civic and political representation.
  • Let’s help all county residents thrive, including seniors via aging-in-community initiatives and immigrants via English-language instruction and cultural sensitivity.
  • Every resident deserves safe and affordable housing in an attractive neighborhood, strong schools, convenient transportation, and fair wages and the opportunity to start a business.

I applaud Montgomery County Public Schools’ Equity Initiatives Unit, aiming for awareness, knowledge, and understanding of one’s own and students’ and staff’s racial and cultural identity. Let’s extend this framework to gender and sexuality and let’s apply it broadly to county government.

The bottom line: Equity should be a primary consideration in Montgomery County revenue, spending, and programing decisions, and in county government operations. I will work to make that happen.


A recently published Urban Institute report, “Racial Inequities in Montgomery County: 2011–15,” describes “a challenge in overcoming the racial and ethnic inequities that are highlighted in the divide between Council District 1, home to Bethesda and Chevy Chase, and District 5, where Silver Spring and Takoma Park are located.”

The report is worth a look. “This brief measures inequities in education, income, employment, and homeownership by race and ethnicity in Montgomery County and its council districts and provides a profile on what racial equity would look like in the county. Quantifying this information will help county agencies, policymakers, and advocates recognize the community’s needs and to build new solutions and create a more equitable county.”

Income disparities by race across Montgomery County

Please visit sethgrimes.org/issues for the statement in the first part of this article and other takes on Montgomery County concerns.

The Minimum Wage Should be Set Locally. One Chart Shows Why.

The Minimum Wage Should be Set Locally. One Chart Shows Why.

“I helped enact a minimum wage increase as a legislator in Annapolis,” writes Delegate Bill Frick. “Minimum wage policy, however, is more effective as a state policy than as a local one.”

Thus we infer that Mr. Frick opposes Montgomery County legislation that would phase in a $15 county minimum wage. Bill 28-17 is due for County Council vote this Tuesday, November 7, and I hope it is enacted.

Mr. Frick’s argument is a misdirection. “More effective” isn’t a consideration because a 2016 state Fight for Fifteen bill, HB 1372, failed to even make it out of committee, and I know of no plans for reintroduction in the next year’s election year legislative session. So Maryland’s minimum will ascend no higher than the $10.10 level Mr. Frick supported in 2014. And “more effective” will remain an abstraction, like saying that a six-legged horse could run faster than one that actually exists.

Why won’t the Maryland General Assembly raise the state minimum? I’d surmise because much of the state has a far lower cost of living than Montgomery County’s.

Let’s look at the data, in particular a measure called the Self-Sufficiency Standard, “how much income families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet at a minimally adequate level without public or private assistance.”

The 2016 self-sufficiency wage in Montgomery County, for a household of one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child is $40.99. “A parent with two young children would still need to work over 155 hours per week in Montgomery County to make ends meet with a minimum wage job.” To support just herself, a single adult living in Montgomery County would need to work 63 hours per week at $11.50/hour, or 48+ hours at $15/hour.

Yet the self-sufficiency standard varies widely across Maryland. The chart below shows why legislators outside high-cost counties including Montgomery might see a higher minimum as less of a priority than we in Montgomery do:

Montgomery County especially needs a higher minimum, but statewide action has failed. So Mr. Frick would let a specious search for “more effective” policy hold us back from needed local action.

There are many precedents for local action in the face of state obstructionism. Here are three:

  • The Charlotte, North Carolina non-discrimination ordinance that was nullified by the infamous North Carolina “bathroom bill.”
  • Montgomery County policies that mandate police non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities, proudly in place despite the General Assembly’s failure to enact a Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act.
  • Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act restricting cosmetic lawncare pesticide use, enacted in the face of inadequate federal and state protections. (The county is preparing to appeal an adverse July court ruling that overturned the law based not on substance, but rather on supposed state preemption.)

A progressive stance says, if you can’t make progress at a state level, then enact locally, where you can pass a bill, as in these example. And don’t let a specious search for “more effective” policy hold you back from doing what’s right.

The TPSS Community Kitchen: A Model for Local Economic Opportunity

The TPSS Community Kitchen: A Model for Local Economic Opportunity

In January 2012, I wrote, “A shared-use neighborhood commercial kitchen facility can be a key component in building economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and improving the health of local citizens.” I was calling for support for the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Community Kitchen, a facility that would “provide small-scale food entrepreneurs the space to prepare value-added food for public sale… This micro-enterprise focus strengthens our area’s food system by increasing the volume of food grown here that can be processed locally.”

Now, almost six years later, that kitchen is operating. A grand opening celebration takes place tomorrow, Saturday, September 16.

The Takoma Park Presbyterian Church had reenvisioned a disused kitchen as a community resource. The church formed an operating partnership with the Crossroads Community Food Network, which runs the Crossroads Farmers Market, whose mission is “building a healthier, more inclusive food system in Maryland’s Takoma/Langley Crossroads.” The Crossroads-kitchen link is essential. It connects bricks-and-mortar – the church facility – to local food suppliers, producers, and vendors, that is, to kitchen users.

This project represents infill economic development. It is based on renovation in place, within an existing building, rather than new construction, working to meet established local need. It provides a model adaptable to a range of community initiatives.

I got involved myself, as a community activist and the Takoma Park City Council member representing the church and the surrounding neighborhood. The church’s first step was to seek a zoning modification, introduced by Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, necessary to house an additional commercial use within a residential zone. Other religious institutions that house similar uses – Meals On Wheels Of Wheaton has long been housed by Temple Emanuel in Kensington, and Meals on Wheels of Takoma Park by Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church – are already commercially zoned. My January 2012 article, Community Commercial Kitchens: An Update on ZTA 11-08, will give you an idea of the give-and-take involved, which led to a better project and to a 9-0 County Council pro-ZTA vote. That give-and-take was actually quite extensive and continues, due to concerns about the kitchen’s neighborhood impact.

The project won $250,000 in Maryland state bond funding, a $75,000 Montgomery County grant, and ultimately $10,000 from the City of Takoma Park, as well as strong community financial support in response to diligent Kitchen Coalition fundraising.

Innovation takes time, however, and persistence counts. Source of the Spring quotes Vicki Warren of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church: “The beauty for us was that this project, I think, represents the true marriage of community in every respect… No matter what hurdles we came up against, you just had a solid core group of people that just never would give up.”

Montgomery County had initiated a parallel project to develop kitchen incubators in 2013. Then-county Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman cites Econsult Solutions’ report, U.S. Kitchen Incubators: An Industry Snapshot, and you will find quite-interesting food-entrepreneur quotes, on the county Innovation Lab site. However the county refocused soon after on job creation rather than on entrepreneurship and abandoned its kitchen incubator initiative. The need for shared kitchen-space remains, which is why it’s so wonderful that the TPSS Kitchen Coalition persisted.

And now we have Manna’s Mobile Kitchen & Pop-Up Pantry, “designed to tackle two barriers at once by bringing nutritious foods and cooking skills to our community. ”

What if we took the models one step further and expanded cottage industry food production? Maryland already allows small-scale farm-home production. Why not allow others, training in commercial food preparation and safety standards, to similarly prepare products for sale, outside a commercial kitchen? We allow licensed home daycare; why not home commercial food production? The aim is to create economic opportunity delivering wide community benefits at low cost.

The TPSS Community Kitchen embodies a model for local economic opportunity. The model is limited but inspiring. Let’s expand on it to provide additional food-entrepreneurship opportunity for all.