Homes, rather than housing

Community: Harford County officials say that the Village of Lakeview is an example of a successful public-private partnership that has stabilized a once-troubled complex.

October 15, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

EDGEWOOD - Christina Timmons remembers the endless nights four years ago when her newborn son was awakened constantly by the gambling, whistling and yelling outside the front door of her Harford County apartment.

She looks around today at the Village at Lakeview's well-tended grounds and smiles. "It's cleaned up a lot. It's a lot quieter," she said.

The Village at Lakeview, consisting of 223 subsidized apartments, is a fresh face in the U.S. 40 community. After decades of deterioration, the complex was targeted two years ago by the county for a drastic overhaul. Today, the stamp of new owners, managers and attitudes is evident at the community.

The project involved $7.5 million in renovations to the 19 three-story buildings, which contain apartments with one to three bedrooms and patios or balconies. But the community's renewal is far more than cosmetic. Hope has replaced fear in a housing complex that was once the hottest spot on the county crime map.

County officials say it's an example of a successful public-private partnership that has helped retain high-quality housing for low- and moderate-income families at a time when rents and mortgages in Maryland are rising.

Residents say they like what they see and feel in their community.

About a year and a half ago, resident Barbara Neely decided she had had enough of the drug-infested Havre de Grace housing complex where she lived. She was in line for a Section 8 house, but then she visited Village at Lakeview and decided to move there instead.

"My mother got upset when I told her I was moving out here," said Neely, 58. "Years ago, it wasn't even safe to come out here. There were shootings and stabbings."

Undaunted, and excited by what she saw in the redeveloped community, Neely moved in. Floral arrangements she has made accent the walls and surfaces of her two-bedroom home. "I love it out here," she said. "My granddaughter can walk down here [from her apartment]. She's not scared. It's really nice."

Neely, who is disabled, keeps a close eye on the young people in the community. When she was ill recently, several teen-agers cooked and cleaned for her. "A couple of the young girls call me `Mom' and come to me for advice," she said.

That kind of community feeling brought Michelle Conway from Highlandtown with her children two years ago. She was looking for green grass, open space and a place where she would feel safe raising her 10-year-old and 18-month-old sons.

"The weeds between the cracks, that was all the grass we had" in Highlandtown, she said. Now, they enjoy the nearby lake and playground. "I feel safe letting my 10-year-old outside to play and don't really have to worry."

Conway, 32, said she likes the community's racial diversity. "It's like a melting pot," she said. "It's not segregated at all."

Roster of partners

The Village at Lakeview is a publicly subsidized, privately owned complex. The 223 units are among 1,650 subsidized units in the county, according to the Harford County Housing Agency.

Residents pay no more than 30 percent of their adjusted income in rent, which means they can pay anywhere from nothing to $900 a month, said Russell Terry Jr., property manager for Commercial Realty Management. The county subsidizes five units; the federal government, 218. Rents run from about $650 for a one-bedroom unit to about $900 for three bedrooms, he said.

Silver Street Development Corp. bought the property two years ago, said Christopher Poulin, one of the company's owners. The company, formed in 1998, acquires properties at risk of being converted to market-rate housing and redevelops them. The Portland, Maine company owns about 20 complexes, primarily on the East Coast.

Silver Street's $7.5 million redevelopment was financed with tax-exempt bonds from Enterprise Mortgage Investments Inc., and tax-credit equity from the Enterprise Social Investment Corp., Allfirst Bank and Fannie Mae.

EMI and ESIC are subsidiaries of the Enterprise Foundation, which was founded two decades ago by James Rouse to help rebuild distressed neighborhoods and low-income families.

"We're really pleased to be involved with this," said Jeffrey R. Stern, president and chief executive officer of EMI. "It's the kind of project we feel makes a difference in the community."

Change is apparent, said Lt. Mark Tolliver, midnight shift commander of the southern precinct of the Harford Sheriff's Office.

In the 1990s, about one-third of all police calls in southern Harford County came from the complex, then called Edgewater Village Apartments, Tolliver said. Two sheriff's deputies were shot and wounded there in the mid-1990s during a drug-surveillance operation. An open-air drug market thrived, and at night dealers were shooting dice in the halls and intimidating residents.

"It was a scary place," Tolliver said. "The drug dealers would pull you over and ask what you wanted. That's how blatant it was. They were running the whole complex at nighttime."

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