The Howard County Housing Commission plans to purchase a 200-unit, mixed-income, residential apartment complex in Columbia's village of Kings Contrivance for $31.6 million, according to the commission's top official.
The apartment complex, called Columbia Commons Apartments, is a garden-style community with a pool, fitness center, clubhouse and picnic area located in the 7600 block of Woodpark Lane off Murray Hill Road in southern Columbia. It was built in 1991 and approximately 51 percent of its units are at affordable rates.
According to Tom Carbo, the commission's executive director, the commission wants to purchase the property to preserve the affordable housing on the site and to increase revenues for the commission.
"In order for [the commission] to continue to provide affordable housing, we have to be able to generate revenue," Carbo said.
The commission is completely self-funded, Carbo said, and the project will be funded using bonds issued by the commission. He said the revenue from the property will go toward paying back the bonds, with the profits supporting other commission objectives.
The commission's plans to purchase Columbia Commons were announced last week at a community meeting of the Kings Contrivance Village Association.
The commission is a county-affiliated organization that operates as a public housing authority and promotes the health of affordable housing within the county. As part of its mission, the commission owns and operates 1,400 residential units – a mix of low-income, moderate-income and market-rate – throughout the county. And despite its affiliation with the county government's Department of Housing and Community Development – the two entities share a staff – the commission is considered a separate legal-entity and is governed by its own board of directors.
Carbo said the complex is in good condition and that the commission was eager to engage the seller in a purchase agreement.
"This is what we consider an example of how affordable housing should be built and how it should be maintained and managed," Carbo said to a group of about 20 residents at the meeting.
"What we want to press upon you all is it has been a well-maintained community. It has been part of the community, and we want to keep it that way," Carbo said. "To the extent we want to make it better, we will."
Carbo said the commission plans to maintain the current mix of affordable housing: 52 units at moderate-income level, 50 units at low-income level and 98 market-rate units. The moderate-, and low-income levels are determined based on percentages of the area's median income. Currently, monthly rents for low-income units are $711, $820 or $879 for a one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment, respectively. Monthly rents for moderate-income units are $1,135, $1,475 or $1,761 for a one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment; and monthly rents for market-rate units are $1,376, $1,595 or $2,214 for a one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment, respectively.
A few residents at the meeting were concerned about the effects of the purchase, but most were just curious about what it meant and how the commission operates. A few were concerned that the purchase was made without the input of the community, even though the commission is a private entity engaging in a private purchasing process. Barbara Seely, chairwoman of the Kings Contrivance village board of directors, said that she was grateful for the commission's desire to present to the community.
"The reason these folks are here tonight is to let you know what's going on in the community. It is a courtesy, we've asked them to come in," she said. "They are purchasing a property and make you aware of what is going into it. This is not an adversarial meeting and I don't expect it to be."
Seely added that she was pleased to have a local owner – the previous owner was based in Chicago – and that she wished the commission would purchase more properties in the village.
"We now have a source to go to that's local instead of having nobody that responds to the concerns of the community," she said. "I feel a whole lot better."