Plan for Stafford Apts. to come within 90 days

City building's owner mulls student housing option, sale

August 21, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The owner of the crime-troubled Stafford Apartments in Mount Vernon says it will outline plans for the building within 90 days, and may lay out how to transform it from federally subsidized housing into student residences.

"We're moving quickly to evaluate what to do," said David Robertson, head of affordable housing at AIMCO, a Denver real estate company that owns the building at 716 Washington Place. "This is a unique property in a great location and deserves to be upgraded."

Robertson's comments were the first from AIMCO since Congress voided federal restrictions that would have required the 11-story tower near the Washington Monument to remain subsidized housing for 14 more years.

The language lifting the restrictions was tucked into a large spending bill by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. The wording said the purpose was to clear the way for student housing. The nearby Peabody Institute says it may be interested in housing its music students there.

Robertson said it was too early to say if AIMCO would undertake a conversion or sell the building. Either way, he said it could be "a couple years" before renovations are completed.

In 1992, a previous owner of the building received a $420,000 loan through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a condition, the owner promised to keep the units for low-income residents through 2016, and that condition was passed on to AIMCO when it bought the Stafford in 1997.

Mount Vernon residents have long complained about drug dealing and crime at the Stafford. But HUD said the building could not be overhauled. Robertson said AIMCO was "thrilled" by the legislative change.

Some local groups, however, said the company has seemed uninterested in the Stafford.

"They weren't accessible," said Rebecca Gagalis, executive director of the Charles Street Development Corp., which lobbied Mikulski and others in the state's congressional delegation.

Still, Gagalis said she was pleased to hear AIMCO intends to move quickly. "I think that all sounds reasonable at this point," she said. "It remains to be seen whether they'll stay involved. I'm sure they're just evaluating their options."

A speedy resolution is only fair to the 100 or so current residents, said Lisa S. Kier, executive director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District. "It's very difficult for them, some of whom have lived there a while, to make plans if they don't know what's going to happen and in what timeframe," she said.

Both Mikulski and AIMCO have promised to find residents suitable replacement housing.

The Stafford was built in 1896 and became a popular hotel among newlyweds. It closed in 1973, and in 1975, its owners converted it to federally subsidized housing primarily for the elderly and disabled. Complaints about crime grew in the late 1980s, when HUD ruled that "disabled" residents could include former drug addicts and alcoholics.

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