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Dual use facility works for Gaithersburg, Md.

The lack of housing available to entry level workers earning modest salaries is a problem that confronts many communities. The city of Gaithersburg, Md. was faced with this problem as well as the task of finding a suitable location for a Senior Citizen Activity Center. Recognizing the importance of both needs, the city acted as a catalyst in forging a partnership to address these twin community concerns.

Using a combination of city, county and state funds, a former Quality Inn was purchased and modified into a complex which houses 120 efficiency apartments and a senior citizens center. The conversion costs totaled $6.5 million. Montgomery County invested about $4 million, the state about $2 million, and the city contributed the remaining $500,000.

Most of the city's contribution has gone to pay off the interest for the entire project and bonds are being issued to cover the facility's mortgage. Aptly named, "Diamond Square Apartments/Gaithersburg Upcounty Senior Center" it has indeed been a "diamond" in rough times.

"This partnership has met the city's need for affordable housing and greatly expanded new opportunities for the city's growing senior population," said David Humpton, Gaithersburg deputy city manager.

The realization that employees, priced out of the housing market, could not choose to live proximate to the workplace was perceived as a genuine economic emergency by both city business leaders and the city government. Local government understood immediately that businesses interested in locating in Gaithersburg would view the lack of affordable housing as a disincentive to establishing in the area. The time seemed right for government to step in and help business weather this economic storm.

"This program targets moderate rent for single individuals," said Brenda Peterson of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.

The plan by which this community achieved its goal is one that could be applied to other regions. Representatives of the business and senior communities, city of Gaithersburg, Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission and the State of Maryland, joined together during a nine-month period to creatively implement a now operational model program which has been visited by interested officials from communities as diverse as Prince George's County, Md. and the Soviet Union.

Rents range from $340 to $395 per month, based on the renters' income, and include furnishings and utilities. Such affordable rates accommodate the low to moderate earnings of individuals just entering the job market and the Senior Center offers a wide variety of services, programs and special activities to senior citizens living in this area.

This complex presents opportunities to its residents. In communities where hopelessness is sadly becoming a buzz word, this project offers programs and services which promote responsibility and independence. Renters must be employed and anyone convicted of a crime in the past three years or who is on probation is ineligible for residency.

The complex also offers an array of seminars and training sessions. Programs emphasizing goal-setting and the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse highlight these outreach activities.

Diamond Square Apartments are not viewed as a permanent solution to affordable housing, but rather serve as an opportunity for the tenant to bridge the gap economically while saving money for a permanent housing solution. These programs coupled with short-term leases, as low as three months, offer incentive to its occupants. Diamond Apartments have a 50 percent turnover rate where most residents move on to more permanent housing.

As a part of the community-based effort, the city established the Diamond Square Apartments Business Advisory Board to promote the facility throughout the Gaithersburg community, and to facilitate an ongoing "housing needs" dialogue to identify other housing issues which might be addressed in a similar community-based fashion.

In solving this community's problem, the leadership of the mayor, city council, county officials, and the business and senior communities was vital in creating this innovative model facility.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work
Author:Padgett, Ingrid
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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Next Article:'Doing what it takes' to help cities.

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