Low-income complexes in Columbia to be renovated


The nonprofit corporation that manages five Columbia townhouse developments for low-income residents is planning a million renovation project this year to make the complexes more attractive and help instill pride in their residents.

The Columbia Housing Corp. has worked for two years with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development on a plan to replace the developments' aging, dark brown wood siding with vinyl, put up awnings and create varied, more attractive color schemes.

The agency also plans to install new furnaces and redo kitchens for the 300 units built in the late 1960s in the five complexes, which are in the Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake villages.

"It will be a decided uplift," said Elsie J. Walters, executive director of the housing corporation, known until the early 1980s as the Columbia Interfaith Housing Corp. "Residents said they'll feel a higher level of pride. They won't feel so set apart from the rest of Howard County.

"Now they are set apart," she said. The federally subsidized housing complexes "are distinctive, identifiable. That's not what we really want."

Due to receive the face-lifts are the developments -- known as Community Homes -- of Fall River Terrace, Waverly Winds and Ranleagh Court in Harper's Choice and Rideout Heath and Roslyn Rise in Wilde Lake.

Lisa Yerrid, a member of the Fall River Terrace residents' board, said the improvements will make her complex a more desirable place to live and help improve outside perceptions.

"I think the general perception is those are the poor people. It's a tolerance," said Ms. Yerrid, 27, who lives with her son, Brandon, 8. "We're tired of being tolerated. We want to be part of Columbia, not just our own little group."

More conscientious management over the last two years and formation of the residents' boards already has led to improvements at the five complexes, said Ms. Yerrid, a biology ++ and education major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

For example, loitering and drug dealing, which had intimidated residents, has dissipated since county police established a satellite office last year in Rideout Heath, she said.

Columbia Housing raised townhouse rents, which were lower than at comparable developments in the region, to help pay for the improvements, Ms. Walters said. The housing agency plans to spend another $800,000 during 1996 and 1997 to fix doors and windows and make other interior improvements.

Ms. Yerrid wants to erase the "stigma" of low-income housing. "We've got a lot of good people living here now," she said. "There's nothing wrong with us. We're doing the best we can. It doesn't mean we have to have crime, fear and a broken-down neighborhood."

Ms. Walters adds that many Community Homes residents are "visibly, actively upwardly mobile. They're getting a start."

Columbia Housing hopes to begin exterior renovations in June after gaining final approvals from the Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice architectural committees, HUD and the county.

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