Couple donates 25% of apartment property

Developer will share the profits with Columbia Foundation

December 24, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

A creative arrangement between a developer and the Columbia Foundation has resulted in the largest gift the nonprofit grant-making organization has ever received.

The foundation will become a 25 percent owner of the Orchard Club apartments in Elkridge on Jan. 1, sharing the profits with majority owners L. Earl and Mary T. Armiger.

The foundation's stake in the property is worth about $2 million, and its 25 percent of the profits could amount to between $25,000 and $50,000 annually, said Barbara K. Lawson, president of the Columbia Foundation.

"We could not be happier," Lawson said. "The beautiful part of it is, it is unrestricted dollars. We can use it for any of the grants we make."

Since 1969, the foundation has awarded nearly $9 million to nonprofit human service, cultural, education and civic programs by drawing on an endowment supported by more than 200 individual funds.

The Orchard Club Apartments were built southwest of the intersection of Montgomery Road and U.S. 1 in 1991 for a mix of income levels. Fifty percent of the units are rented at a market price, 25 percent are reserved for moderate-income renters and 25 percent are for low-income renters.

The low-income portion qualified for a federal tax credit program aimed at supporting investment in affordable rental housing. Through that program, Enterprise Community Investment acquired a 25 percent interest in the property. That company is a for-profit arm of Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit focused on creating affordable housing opportunities.

The federal program reached the end of its 15-year time period this year. Enterprise Community Investment had completed its role and wanted to find a new arrangement that would continue to benefit the community.

Typically, to end a partnership, a property would be sold, said Earl Armiger, president of Orchard Development Corp. Alternatively, Orchard could have bought the 25 percent share from Enterprise.

Armiger said Enterprise suggested that he and his wife start a charitable foundation to receive the 25 percent interest.

The couple, who live in Ellicott City, were intrigued.

"We do not need the money," Earl Armiger said. "We decided we did not want to sell it, and we wanted to keep the units in mixed incomes like it is now."

The family has a fund at the Columbia Foundation, and Armiger recently joined the group's board of directors. The couple decided to make the gift to that organization.

"Mary's and my thinking is that the money will stay right here in the county," Armiger said.

They also created a covenant that will keep 25 percent of the Orchard Club apartments available to low-income renters for 20 years beyond an original 30-year commitment to do so. The covenant will also ensure another 25 percent continues to serve moderate-income renters during that time.

Armiger said he and his wife would like to see their gift serve as an example for others. He said there is a lot of wealth in Howard County properties that can benefit the community along with more traditional cash gifts.

"It is a very creative gift," Lawson said. "This is an enormous gift with no strings attached."

Armiger also said he is pleased to build another connection between the Enterprise Community Partners and the Columbia Foundation, both of which were founded by the late James W. Rouse, who was a proponent of affordable housing.

"What we have done here is really carried forward the ideals of Jim Rouse," he said.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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