Prince George’s proposal to buy apartments attacked by property owners -- Gazette.Net


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A Prince George’s councilwoman’s proposal to have the county government buy apartment buildings to preserve their use for low- and middle-income residents is coming under fire from property owners.

County Bill 27 would give the county first right of refusal to purchase apartment complexes of 20 units or more in which the buyer plans to turn the property into condominiums, or demolish or remove more than a third of the existing units.

After an agreement to transfer the title of ownership of an apartment building had been signed, the bill would give the county up to a month to determine whether to purchase the property. Should the county opt to buy an apartment complex, the county would have six months to arrange financing to match the purchase agreement.

The measure aims to save multifamily-apartment complexes as housing for the county’s low- and middle-income residents and prevent the loss of apartments in the move to build condominiums, according to the legislation. In order to bypass the county’s right to evaluate a site for potential purchase, a seller and buyer would have to agree to various stipulations such as promising to maintain the property as a multifamily residential property for at least three years.

Councilwoman Mary A. Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, who proposed the legislation, hung up on multiple calls to her cell phone and did not return repeated requests for comment through the County Council’s communication office.

Critics of the measure, including the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington and the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, say the proposal intrudes on private business transactions and it claims to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

Across Prince George’s County, there are about 72,000 multifamily rental units, said Ronald Wineholt, the vice president of government affairs for the Maryland office of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.

“The market will meet public demand if the government allows it,” he said. “The best way to meet the demand for rental housing is for government to promote conditions that allows the market to meet the public demand.”

Since 2008, no rental property in Prince George’s has been converted to a condominium, according to Steve Ackerman, a special assistant in the Maryland Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible for tracking the number of registered condominiums in the state. Maryland has required new condominiums to be registered with the state government since 1981. More than 2,560 condominiums are currently registered in Maryland, with Prince George’s being home to 149, he said. Across Maryland, the market for condominiums has largely cooled, as the state has gone from having about 100 new condominiums created annually prior to 2008 to about 25 per year since, Ackerman said.

“Even though the problem doesn’t exist, this regulatory requirement would create confusion and delay in selling every apartment facility in the county,” Wineholt said. “Even if the county never exercised the power, the fear would be there.”

Carl Allen, vice president of the Prince George’s Real Estate Professionals, a Mitchellville-based group that advocates for affordable housing, also questioned the bill’s purpose.

“I don’t see how this affects the general market,” Allen said. “Does the county have the expertise to be a owner of property? Is that where they want to be?”

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing and potentially final vote on July 24.

amccombs@gazette.net