When Ann Huff moved into her new Ranleagh Court townhouse in Columbia's Harper's Choice village a quarter-century ago, she planted a hand-sized maple sapling on her front lawn. Despite problems in the neighborhood over the years, Huff -- like the now sprawling maple tree -- has remained firmly rooted.
"I don't think I've ever seen low-rent housing look this good," said Huff, 69. "I take a lot of pride in the court, I always have. When I first came here, the houses were all right, but now I think they look aristocratic."
These days, Huff and her neighbors have a particularly good reason to feel proud: a renovation project for five predominantly subsidized, 29-year-old neighborhoods nestled in Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake villages: Ranleagh Court, Roslyn Rise, Rideout Heath, Waverly Winds and Fall River Terrace.
The restoration of the rental home communities coincides with larger revitalization efforts in Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice villages, where residents have banded together to improve the areas through cleanup efforts and town meetings to discuss improvements to schools.
Those initiatives, started more than a year ago, are intended to bring the villages more in line with some of Columbia's newer villages.
The $2.5 million project to upgrade the worn interiors and exteriors of the 300 rental units owned and managed by Community Homes, a nonprofit division of the Columbia Housing Corp., began in 1994.
"We've taken on a whole new look in the community," said Carole MacPhee, acting executive director of Columbia Housing Corp. "It makes us blend in with our neighbors. We don't stick out as subsidized properties."
Interior renovations, including remodeled kitchen cabinets, retiling and new furnaces, have been performed in all the units. With external improvements -- reinforced siding and sparkling canopies -- still to be done on Waverly Winds and Fall River Terrace, MacPhee said she expects the entire make-over to be )) completed by November.
Barbara Reed, a 22-year Roslyn Rise resident and president of the neighborhoods' Resident Initiative Board, likens the renovations to the realization of a longtime dream.
"With what's just happened, it's like when you finally hit the big one -- the jackpot -- after playing the Lotto for years and years," Reed said. "It's a grand, grand renovation. The renovations give a whole new attitude when you go into your house.
"I feel just as proud to park in front of my residence as those people parking in front of their $90,000 town homes."
Elisa Lemaire, who lives in the Waverly Winds neighborhood, says the day can't come soon enough when siding and canopies supplant the rotting brown wood on her townhouse.
"I hate the way it looks now -- it looks like a ghetto," Lemaire said. "The renovations would give the place a better name and would vTC make it cleaner and brighter. I'm excited and have been excited since they started. I just wish they'd come on and do it real soon."
Along with the rotting wood, the neighborhood renovations also are designed to remove the stigma attached to subsidized houses.
"You hear all these war stories about people who are subsidized and don't pay rent," MacPhee said. "You're not going to see that in Columbia -- 80 percent of the families in these communities work. The key is that they're like anyone else in the community."
To implement the renovation project, MacPhee said, a 25 percent rent increase was phased in over 1994 and 1995, bringing the cost of a one-bedroom apartment to $383 -- though subsidies can lower that amount.
The money from the rent increase was placed in the Community Homes' capital improvements account, from which the renovation funds were drawn, MacPhee said.
She said project spending is overseen by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The finishing touches on the housing rehabilitation later this year will culminate the work of Elsie J. Walters, a Community Homes director who died in February. To mark the occasion, the Community Homes Resident Initiative Board is sponsoring a festival dedicated to Walters Sept. 21 at the Rideout Heath complex in Wilde Lake.
Huff, standing beside her beige townhouse with its bright-blue canopy, said she looks forward to at least 25 more years in her own place -- the one, she added proudly, with the full-grown maple tree in the front yard.
"It's a lovely situation here now and a lot better than it was. There is a togetherness and pride to the neighborhood, just like one family," she said. "I would hate to have to move."
Pub Date: 8/20/96