Perched on a hillside above historic Ellicott City's Main Street, Howard County's new 25-unit Tiber-Hudson apartment building was designed as a welcome refuge for vulnerable older people.
The earth-tone block, brick and glass building is owned by the county's Housing Commission and is designed for those ages 62 and older with limited incomes and who are struggling with a variety of medical and housing problems. The three-story, $3 million building is intended to allow residents to stay, even as they become more frail.
It also represents the kind of public-private trade-off with developers that has riled people in western Ellicott City who oppose plans for a larger, 59-unit subsidized apartment building on Frederick Road, near Centennial Lane.
Rising housing prices have led county officials to stop forcing builders to supply subsidized housing sprinkled among new units. A contentious law approved last year allows builders instead to construct required limited-income units separately, often as rental apartments, and sometimes at different locations than their primary projects in exchange for providing more units.
Nearly 400 opponents of the Frederick Road project, called Centennial Gardens, crowded the County Council chambers last month to protest it, and the angry residents have asked County Executive Ken Ulman to order an investigation of the Housing Commission's dealings with developers. Ulman plans to meet with the group, a spokesman said.
There has been no controversy over the Tiber-Hudson building, which is on county-owned land at the southern end of Mount Ida Drive - part of the Hilltop Housing public housing complex.
The apartments range from 480 to 645 square feet, and each has a bedroom, living room, small kitchen and a large bathroom, equipped with handrails and easy-entry showers. Rents range from $250 to $500 depending on income, including utilities, according to Timi Lash, the county's property manager.
Each floor has large spaces near the elevators for social gatherings, and the lobby has two large community rooms, one on each side. A wide, covered veranda, equipped with benches, is just outside the building entrance.
Leonard S. Vaughan, the former county housing director, crafted the deal for the building with developer Paul Revelle and builder Dale Thompson, who are selling upscale retirement homes starting at $550,000 at Scott's Glen, on Cedar Lane at Owen Brown Road in Columbia.
Revelle and Thompson were required to provide 14 moderate-income units in Scott's Glen, but condominium fees and taxes would have made it hard for limited-income buyers to afford them. So they agreed to build Tiber-Hudson instead, at cost. In addition, they contributed $1.2 million to the project, while giving the county nine more units.
"It wound up as pretty much a good deal for both parties," Revelle said.
The Tiber-Hudson building is complete, though furniture for the lobby and common rooms has not arrived. The building is 75 percent rented, but only three apartments are occupied, Lash said.
Septuagenarians Daisy Powell, Richard G. Holmes, and Barbara and Bob Simms are the first residents, and all said they are delighted to be there. They have become friends as they work on unpacking and wait for neighbors to arrive and telephones to be connected.
"It was time, because of my age and my health, to move to a senior building," said Powell, 78, who still is trying to fit the belongings she had in a 76-foot-long mobile home in Deep Run Mobile Home Park on U.S. 1 into her apartment.
She lived at Deep Run for more than 15 years, she said, but her husband died a decade ago, and she has had problems with neighbors there. In April, her mother died, she said, and later she fainted while home alone. As a result, her right arm is chronically weak.
Now, "I do not have to worry" about being alone or getting medical care, she said. "This is beautiful for seniors. This is wonderful!"
Holmes, 75, lived 15 years in another U.S. 1 mobile home park, but over time water leaks and the cost of fixing appliances exceeded his ability to maintain it, he said.
A former actor, musician, store Santa Claus and part-time Howard County government television announcer, Holmes is recovering from quadruple bypass surgery after a heart attack.
"I just had to abandon the home. I signed the lease over to the management," Homes said, and lived in his daughter's living room for seven weeks waiting for Tiber-Hudson to be finished.
Despite giving up a three-bedroom, two-bath double-wide mobile home he shared with boarders, Holmes said he is happy in his new, much smaller place.
"I do not need any more space than this," he said.
Barbara Simms, 70, and her husband of 46 years, Bob, 72, said they were one step from living in a motel or worse when the chance to get into Tiber-Hudson came up.
Self-employed painting contractors for years, the couple were renting a townhouse in Dorsey Search for $1,000 a month and then lived briefly in the North Laurel area before losing their place.
"He got too old to do a lot," and broke a hip, Barbara said of her husband. Now, Bob said, he has stomach cancer. Barbara has a bad knee and limps, and their van is disabled. Their daughter brings them groceries, she said.
"Rents are so high - $1,000 a month. It got to the point it took everything from you," she said. The Simmses have no pension and are living on Social Security.
"We would have been on the street" without help from the county, Bob Simms said.
"You cannot beat a place like this," his wife said.