In a move intended to bolster the stock of affordable housing in Howard, the county has purchased a 300-unit apartment complex in Columbia.
The Howard County Housing Commission nearly doubled its portfolio with the recent acquisition of Columbia Landing on Tamar Drive for $36 million.
"This property is in excellent condition on every metric," said Stacy L. Spann, the county's director of Housing and Community Development. "It's very well maintained; its tenant base is stable, and it generates enough revenue to support itself."
The commission's seven-member board unanimously supported the acquisition.
The purchase addresses a need over which county officials and housing advocates have often expressed concern: Many of the workers essential to the well-being of Howard County, where the average home sells for $450,000 and rents also tend to be high, cannot afford to live there.
"Teachers, police officers, firefighters and others who serve our community ought to have a quality place to live," said County Council member Calvin Ball, whose district includes Columbia Landing. "This is a positive step in that direction."
Housing Commission member William Ross said, "Other than those working in conjunction with the Housing Commission, no developers are offering affordable housing. We're committed to the task, for rental [properties] as well as ownership."
Columbia Landing, which was built in 1972, is in exceptionally good physical shape "for an older property," Ross said. The location, near Interstate 95 and Route 175, is another plus, he said.
The Housing Commission has retained the operator, Equity Management, to manage the property and plans to make about $1.2 million in renovations over the next two years.
The deal is intended to allow for a smooth ownership transition, Spann said. The complex is more than 94 percent occupied, with several leases pending, and the Housing Commission will continue to rent units to tenants who live there. Rates will remain the same, between about $800 for an efficiency apartment and $1,200 for a two-bedroom unit.
As space opens up in the future, he said, the commission will phase in renters who qualify for moderate-income housing - those who earn about 60 percent of the median household income for the Baltimore area, about $47,000 for a family of four.
Eventually, about 40 percent of the community's residents will fit the moderate-income category. The rest will pay market rate. No government subsidies will be involved.
"This is an opportunity for us to preserve some level of affordability within an already mixed-income property and maintain it over the long term," Spann said.
Andre DeVermeil, a member of the Full Spectrum Housing Coalition, an advocacy group, voiced approval of the move, which increases the Housing Commission's portfolio from 400 to 700 units. For one, the purchase is in keeping with the county's stated goal of avoiding dense concentrations of low-income housing.
"It has been proven that mixed-income communities are more successful," DeVermeil said. "Everyone in [such] communities has good role models for keeping up property. Students have role models and tend to do better in school. High achievers tend not to get dragged down, and that's better for everyone."
DeVermeil emphasized that the affordable-housing initiatives need not always be about new construction. It's also about preservation.
"We have to make an effort to keep what's already there," he said. "This accomplishes that. I see it as a very positive step."