Lucille Hosein sees the new door canopies and vinyl siding planned for her Waverly Winds townhouse as evidence that the low-income community's landlords are interested in more than just her money.
"[Residents] thought . . . that the management didn't really care about the people who lived here," she said. "They thought the only thing they wanted to do was increase the rent."
This week, however, workers are due to begin $2 million worth of exterior renovations to the five low-income Community Homes developments in the Villages of Harpers Choice and Wilde Lake.
At the same time, residents and the residential managers are banding together to create a tighter sense of community through workshops on finance and other topics and programs for young people.
"We're going for dignity and pride," said Dr. Elsie Walters, executive director of the nonprofit Columbia Housing Corp., which owns and manages the developments' 300 housing units, home to 880 residents. "You look around Howard County and you see soft colors and manicured lawns, and so we want our communities to be the same.
"We want the children who come from there to feel very proud about where they live," she added.
The improvements are the first major exterior renovations since the developments were built in 1967. Funding came from the housing corporation's capital project fund and a 33 percent increase in rent that was phased in during 1992 and 1993.
Ranleagh Court, a complex in Harper's Choice, is the first development slated for renovations, to be followed by Roslyn Rise, in Wilde Lake. The renovations include replacing the dark brown wood siding with vinyl, repairing stucco and adding door awnings.
Each of the five developments -- Ranleagh Court, Falls River Terrace and Waverly Winds in Harper's Choice, and Roslyn Rise and Rideout Heath, in Wilde Lake -- will be given a distinct color scheme for their siding, trim, doors and awnings.
During the past two years, all of the kitchens have been reoutfitted. Furnaces now are being replaced.
Rents range from $380 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $650 per month for a four-bedroom town home.
The work comes at a time when residents say they have noticed a new spirit of pride throughout the five complexes.
Ms. Hosein, 47, and her 5-year-old daughter were placed at Waverly Winds a year and a half ago, after an accident left her temporarily paralyzed and resulted in the loss of her Columbia home.
"Waverly Winds had a really horrible reputation," she said. "It was drug-infested, and police were here all the time."
But with the creation of a police satellite office, more restrictive screening of residents by management and the tenants taking pride in their community, Waverly Winds now is a different place, she said.
"There's a lot less apathy among the residents," Ms. Hosein said. "They're starting to care more. They see the improvements that the management is making, and it's giving them a boost. I think it's the place to live right now."
Stephen Williams, who moved to Waverly Winds with his family in January after a temporary disability left him unemployed and cost him a home in Baltimore, said the appearance of a housing complex often has an effect on the behavior of residents.
"If you fix it up, you make it part of the community, not a taboo or a plague," he said.
A pastor at Swansfield's True Life Church, Mr. Williams, 32, sees his stay at Community Homes as a stepping stone to owning his own home again. But no matter how long residents live in the Community Homes developments, he said, they want to be proud of where they live.
"Most of them are hard-working people. Some of them have had challenges, but they want the best for their families," he said.
The next step for the communities, said Dr. Walters, is an increase in resident programs. Already, residents can participate in workshops on real estate and crisis management. Future programs include mentoring for young people, tutoring and arts programs.
Planners of Wilde Lake's village revitalization project -- to be launched this fall -- will watch the Community Homes renewal effort for ideas to incorporate into their program, said Councilwoman Mary Lorsung, a Democrat who represents west Columbia.
"They're several steps ahead of us and we can look to things they are doing or are planning to do to give our effort a boost, things we haven't thought of," she said.