Development helps make Columbia affordable at lower incomes Nonprofit promoting such housing may see more difficult future

December 20, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The brick facade and the "Bonjour" welcome mat make Candace Dodson's brand-new townhouse in Long Reach look a lot like any other in Columbia.

But with a price tag of about $120,000, townhomes in the recently completed Stoney Run development cost about $30,000 less than the average in Howard County -- making them affordable for first-time homebuyers like the 25-year-old Columbia Association employee.

The 61-unit development off Snowden River Parkway, geared toward those earning between $18,000 and $30,000 a year, is one of the latest projects of the Enterprise Foundation, the Columbia-based nonprofit organization founded in 1982 by the late James W. Rouse and his wife, Patty, to promote affordable housing nationwide.

Unknown to many local residents and community leaders, Enterprise has established itself as one of the most important players in the affordable housing market in its own back yard: The foundation and its affiliates have bought, built, renovated or helped secure funding for more than 750 units in Columbia.

With the 31-year-old planned community nearing build-out, the local role of Enterprise may soon diminish -- even if the need for affordable housing does not.

Although Rouse envisioned Columbia as an egalitarian society, where people of mixed incomes could live in the same neighborhood and share stories at the trademark group mailboxes, officials say it has become difficult to create affordable housing, in part because of Columbia's success as a suburban hamlet.

"As Columbia has greatly succeeded, the houses that once were affordable to low-income and people of modest means are no longer," said F. Barton Harvey III, Enterprise's chairman and chief executive officer, referring to rising home prices. "And that's a tribute to -- it's a product of -- the success of Columbia, but it begins to change some of the socioeconomic aspects of this area."

Another obstacle is resident resistance. Some Columbians complain that subsidized housing complexes, like the 100-unit high-rise near the Harper's Choice Village Center known as Harper House, have drawn crime to an otherwise crime-free community.

In 1995, when Enterprise proposed the Stoney Run project -- originally known as Streamwood -- many in the surrounding neighborhoods protested, saying the village had enough subsidized housing.

Columbia does have a disproportionate amount of subsidized housing. About 2,000 assisted rental units, 80 percent of the county's total, are located there, with the highest concentration in the villages of Harper's Choice, which has 17 percent, Owen Brown, which has 14 percent, and Long Reach, which has 12 percent, according to a rental housing survey prepared for the county in 1996.

Because of the initial backlash over Stoney Run, Enterprise was forced to delay -- and revise -- its construction plans.

The late Rouse's nonprofit group, which helped secure $3.5 million in equity for the Parkview senior citizen apartments in Owen Brown and the Columbia Commons mixed-income development in Kings Contrivance, continues to provide assistance on several local projects: The foundation recently gave the Columbia Housing Corp. more than $200,000 in pre-development financing for group homes for developmentally disabled adults.

Enterprise also is serving as the development consultant on the construction of St. Matthew House, a 15-unit assisted-living home for physically disabled young adults scheduled to open in the spring at the Kings Contrivance Village Center.

The foundation helped the project's sponsors, the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew and the Virginia-based Community Residences Inc., secure a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency; a $62,000 grant from the county Housing and Community Development Board; and a $50,000 grant from Maryland Affordable Housing Trust.

Rouse Co., which has established a five-year, $500,000 grant in support of Enterprise, sold the land for the project for a deeply discounted $30,000, and the company's foundation provided the sponsors another $50,000.

Because Columbia is reaching residential completion, it's unlikely that many more new affordable developments like Stoney Run will be built, although Enterprise officials say they continue to look for "creative" ways to support such projects. One possibility, said Harvey, is to seek county approval to increase housing density in some areas.

Leonard C. Vaughan, executive director of the Howard County Office of Housing and Community Development, said he expects much of the remaining work in the low-income sector to be in redevelopment.

Earlier this year, with the help of a multimillion-dollar grant from HUD, the Enterprise Foundation bought and renovated three of Columbia's subsidized housing complexes -- Harper House, Sierra Woods and Steven Forest -- preserving more than 350 units that would likely have reverted to market-rate rentals.

At Stoney Run, the first residents continue to move in, and all the usual signs of habitation are there: garden hoses, holiday wreaths, miniature basketball hoops. So far, more than half of rTC the 20 rentals and 41 townhomes, for which Enterprise helped prospective buyers arrange financing packages through various state and local agencies, have been spoken for.

"It's just a great way to bring young adults that grew up in Columbia back to the community, knowing that we can't afford the River Hill-type houses yet," said Candace Dodson, the first-time homebuyer, assembling a baker's rack in her new living room.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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