Meet the Neighbors

On August 4, 2010, in Development, by Evan Glass

After undergoing an arduous construction process and then sitting vacant for more than a year, the Argent is set to be the newest home for scores of people in South Silver Spring. An
official ribbon cutting is tentatively scheduled for September 16 and residents are expected to move in shortly thereafter.

Built during the economic boom, the Argent was designed to be condominiums priced between $300,000 and $500,000. But after a nearly year-long construction delay, due to thick layers of bedrock, the building quickly closed its sales office after a soft opening in 2009. The residential bust turned into a financial failure for the project’s original backers, Corus Bank, a Chicago-based lender that was taken over the FDIC last September.

“The property was developed to be market rate condos,” said Stan Herskovitz, principal of Paradigm Financial Consulting, which bought the building licensed under Palas Properties, LLC. “Had the project gotten done a year earlier, it would have sold [as condos]. The market was there. But instead of getting done in the summer of ’08, it got done in ’09. There was no market.”

Herskovitz pointed to the dubious record of Corus Bank, saying the giant lender financed “many many many other condos in the Eastern and Western portions of the United States that either didn’t get done or were sold.” There was clearly a reason the bank collapsed.

As the building remained dormant, Herskovitz’s Park City, Utah based-firm purchased the Argent and asked Montgomery County for financial incentives to turn it into affordable housing. The complicated deal, finalized at the end of July, resulted in nearly $25.3 million in municipal bonds and tax credits for the project.

“The primary reason [for
supporting this project] is that there is a shortage of affordable housing in
downtown Silver Spring,” said Rick Nelson, Director of Montgomery County’s
Department of Housing and Community Affairs. “When you think about all the units
that have been produced over the years, there is a lot of it that is really
expensive. Considering the location, it was a prime spot for affordable
housing.”

Herskovitz, a 40-year
veteran of the multi-family real estate business who has been creating
affordable housing since 1992, also saw the allure of expanding the housing
options in downtown Silver Spring.

“We want to go out to good
neighborhoods and good locations like Silver
Spring and give a good product at an affordable rent. This allows
people who otherwise couldn’t afford it the opportunity to live in a great
neighborhood, live a few blocks from the Metro, from downtown, and enjoy a
lifestyle at a rent they can afford,” said Herskovitz.

All of the building’s 96
units are subject to income limits, with 10 units going towards households that
make under 50 percent of the Montgomery County’s area median income and 86 units
going to households making under 60 percent. The area median income for Montgomery County (DC-metro area) is $103,500.

One bedroom units will be
rented for $1,069 and two bedroom units for $1,272.

Based on the 60 percent rate, an
individual renting a one bedroom unit must earn between $30,000 – $43,500. The
income range for a two person household is $34,000 – $49,680. More information
can be found on page 6 of this Housing Opportunities Commission document.

“We’re talking about people
going out every day and working. They are just like someone else,” says Nelson,
adding that the housing program is geared toward struggling families and recent
college graduates alike.

But some in South Silver
Spring have expressed concern about the building’s use, worrying about an
increase in crime and a decrease in property values–  fears that Nelson says
are unfounded.

“Whether its low income
housing, assisted housing, affordable housing – what people see is stuff we saw
on television in Chicago: decrepit, terrible shape, not very well managed,” he
says. Similar projects in Montgomery County, be they in Bethesda, Gaithersburg
or Silver Spring, are “well integrated into the community and not
an island unto itself.”

One shining example in South
Silver Spring is the Gramax Towers, which was the first residential building
built for lower income residents in South Silver Spring.

“In terms of the Gramax,
everyone know it’s there but it hasn’t caused a problem,” says Nelson.

Gary Cambpell of Grady
Management
, the Argent’s local management company,
expects residents to move in by October 1 and for the entire building to occupied by
December.

 
  • Anonymous

    While I generally support Montgomery County in providing affordable housing, I disagree with the way that it has been undertaken.  South Silver Spring has dramatically more country sponsored affordable housing then any other neighborhood in Montgomery County.  Just look at the list on the county’s webpage.  Currently there are affordable units in the Bennington, the Veridian, Gramax Towers, 1200 East West Highway, The Portico and several other locations in the 20910 zip code.  It is unclear to me that the Council even took that into consideration.  While I generally agree that one development likely won’t have a dramatic negative impact on surrounding property values, with this many developments including 2 large developments that are solely moderately priced units I am concerned that South Silver Spring will pass a tipping point and experience a further decline in property value due to this development.  The County should strive for a much more even distribution of moderately priced housing.  Furthermore, I think property owners should have had more of an opportunity in advance to share their concerns.  Lastly, I think it shows a real lack of foresight on the part of our Council representatives to not address this issue prior everyone just seeing a sign outside the Argent.  It appears that Ms. Ervin is not in touch with her constituency at all and isn’t thinking about their concerns.  Assuming the Argent is moving forward as all moderately priced units I hope that the building is well managed and well run and is a good neighbor to all of the other buildings in the area.  

  • ILuvSilverSpring

    As a propery owner in South Silver Spring, I have no major issues with affordable housing but I think to devote an entire building is a little much.  This is probably one of the best and most visible locations off East-West Highway and  it will have a downward effect on pricing.  If you already have Gramax, plus units in each new apartment building, is there really a need to devote an entire building?  I do think it would have been nice to have more South Silver Spring property owners to have some say in this process.  There may have been an open meeting but it wasnt publicized well and I dont know where the Council Representatives live but they dont seem to represent South Silver Spring well at all. 

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with the first 2 comments. As a property owner in South Silver Spring – and getting ready to sell – I am very concerned about property values. I actually am a big proponent of affordable housing – and I think there should be more concern for affordable housing but the housing should be *everywhere* not concentrated in one corner of a city/town/county/etc. My concern does not come from a fear of crime – that is a concern that I feel is a classist and racist concern; my concern comes from knowing that in the minds of the majority of people, “affordable housing” DOES equal crime. Yes, I just called my potential buyers racist and classist; but as a sciologist who has done much research on inequalities in the US, I can tell you that to many people, “affordable housing” is simply a code for poor and not-white (when talking about urban districts) and “poor” and “not-white” similarly equate with crime in the minds of many in the US. I want to be clear: I do not subscribe to this view; however, I understand that this is a common viewpoint.  Because many think affordable housing = crime, the plan for another entire buiding of affordable housing units within a 1 block radius of each other is not good news for my future sale.

    I also think that the community should have had some kind of notice and chance to weigh in. I certainly would have attended the meeting and asked that a mixed income buiding be given more consideration. There has been research to show that mixed-income buildings are actually more succesful than buildings that are affordable housing only. Affordable-housing-only-buildings are eventually sigmaized because in America, it is shameful to be poor.

  • Anonymous

    This is a terrible idea!!! I think this will tremendously bring down the property values in the neighborhood. Its bad enough that we have to deal with a decrease in home value in the downtown Silver Spring area with this unfortunate economy. I also have a gut feeling that this will potentially bring crime to the area. I am totally against this happening. I would have much rathered it become an apartment building under private ownership and have competitive rental fees as the surrounding Blair Complex and other apartment homes.

  • Anonymous

    I want some of this affordable stuff…healthcare, housing, college tuitions…

    Affordable means what? Pay what you can or want? Nah,I think it means the govt decides who gets it.
    This is another terrible idea. It really is staggering when you realize how much economic power the political class has been able to arrogate to themselves with the taxpayer’s money and credit. The power over deciding who wins and who loses, from housing policy to the financial industry to health care.

    Seemingly, the only response to the failed affordable housing plicy is more of the same done at an accelerated rate.

    The “best” part about so-called affordable housing is that the new designation precludes full disclosure. Which means the lender is generally -and ideally- forbidden by law to reveal to any interested party the grants and subsidies given to the mortgagee/renter. This is particularly useful when dealing with non-governmental associations, such as homeowner groups, property managers, and/or condo associations.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this information, Evan.

    Besides the Gramax, did Rick Nelson give other examples of similar projects in Montgomery County, e.g., Bethesda, Gaithersburg or Silver Spring?

  • Anonymous

    Does making a building exclusively low-income housing make it an irreversible change, or could it go back to market-rates (partially, if nothing else) once housing values pick back up ?   Integrating  low-income housing (with fewer frills) into market-rate buildings is a great idea, this simply is not.  If the quality of amenities does not match the neighboring buildings, then let lower rents reflect that, and build in subsidized units into that framework.  Maybe the asking rental rates are reflective of the quality of the building, but this then just seems to be a way to ensure that the new developer gets the government to reduce the risk in his investment.

  • Anonymous

    When the Argent had an open house last year I went and viewed the units. They are very nice, dark hardwood floors/carpet, granite, and delta fixtures. I really don’t understand how these can be low income housing. The county should have asked SSS owners about it. I’m not much worried about crime as I am about my property value. There are many affordable units in buildings in SSS. I agree with one of the posters above where are there affordable housing in Bethesda, Gaithersburg, or Rockville. I just think Silver Spring has a lot and am starting to feel like it is becoming one of the “more affordable” areas in Montgomery County. 

     

     

  • Jimmy Obomsawin

    From what we found out from Montgomery County Planning’s publication last week, Silver Spring is the most affordable area of the county.

  • Anonymous

    Not a good thing Jimmy.

    Affordable is a euphamism for people living in places they cannot afford that need at least part of their housing costs subsidized. Hello Silver Spring.

  • Nellie Dickens

    Whatever your feelings about affordable housing, Anon, note that this is not subsidized housing, but moderate-income housing. People pay their full rent (which happens to be lower than surrounding buildings); no portion of it is paid by the government, which is what you are implying in your response.

  • Joel

    I’m generally a supporter of LIHTC housing: it allows working folks who might not otherwise be able to afford a community to partake of an area to which they have a great deal to add.  Often, these are entry-level teachers, firefighters, and police officers as well as military members who work in a community they can’t afford to live in.

    That said, I think this is a bad idea.

    Our elected leaders are pursuing a shortsighted public policy.  This policy is shortsighted because by combining factors that correlate strongly with violent crime, our elected and appointed leaders are incurring an unnecessary degree of risk.  Let me explain:

    There is a very strong positive correlation between the combination of high population density and low-income with violent crime.  Rural areas with low income and urban areas with high income experience very few violent crime incidents relative to urban, low-income areas.  The postive correlation between income and population density with violent crime is independent of the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities: it’s a socio-economic rather than racial correlation.  Correlation is NOT causation: no one knows the exact causal factors for high crime rates.  But the correlation is statistically robust across all 50 states and DC, independent of racial composition.  So wise public officials, well-versed in socio-economic data, would be hesitant to concentrate lower-income residents in high-population density areas.

    The problem is that the Montgomery County Council is effectively warehousing its lowest-income residents in high-population density districts, rather than spreading them across less densely populated communities.  A more effective public policy solution would designate a given percentage of rental housing units by zip code, and require that they be leased under LIHTC rules.  Since the County already has to approve landlords to rent their units, this is relatively achievable (though costly: landlords receive compensation for renting below market rates, and costs more in wealthier districts).

    Instead, our County officials have apparently decided that the easiest solution to the vacancy rates in market-priced real estate in the eastern and southern zip codes is to re-designate swaths of high-density buildings as LIHTC, and subsidize the landlords accordingly.  According to the County HOC website, of its roughly 50 properties, 10 are in Bethesda/Rockville/Potomac, and 30 are in Silver Spring/Takoma Park/Wheaton, with 26 of those in Silver Spring and 13 in either 20910 or 20901 zip codes.  Not surprisingly for a social scientist, this correlates strongly with the bulk of the county’s (modest) violent crime.

    This is a bad public policy.  We could have done better.

    And the County had plenty of options: the owner/investor of the Argent could be given property tax breaks analogous to those generously offered to Discovery Channel, or commensurate with the parking rate relief offered the developer of Ellsworth.  The units of the Argent could be segmented, with a fraction as traditional LIHTC, and the others designated for military personnel stationed at Walter Reed and for entry-level public employees otherwise unable to live near their workplace. 

  • Anonymous

    Nellie Dickens,

    See above: “Argent and asked Montgomery County for financial incentives to turn it into affordable housing.” Who do you think pays for those “incentives”? You do, thats who. 

     

  • Brains from my father

    For the past seven years I’ve lived on Thayer Avenue where there is a lot of affordable housing in apartment complexes and the presence of this housing has in no way negatively impacted my quality of life. Housing prices have not plummeted, crime is no worse than any other part of town, and incidents of noise/public disturbances are few and far between. I’m reading a lot of NIMBYism in these comments. Families making blue collar wages in Montgomery County ought to be able to have a decent place to live without having to spend 40, 50, or 60% of their income on housing or without having to commute to their jobs here from Frederick County or points further out. Locating affordable housing near public transportation and other destinations within a close walk allows folks to spend less money on both housing and transportation, leaving money left over for retirement savings, college tuition, health care expenses, and other goods that allow people to lead prosperous lives. 

  • Anonymous

    Progressivism’s promise is a pro­gram for every prob­lem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unful­filled desire is a problem i.e. boy, I sure would like to live downtown, but my budget just doesn’t seem to allow it…

    The Silver Spring wel­fare state encour­ages peo­ple to believe an impos­si­bil­ity: that every house­hold can be a net importer of the wealth redis­trib­uted by the gov­ern­ment. But the wel­fare state’s prob­lem is socialism’s prob­lem, as Mar­garet Thatcher defined it: Social­ist gov­ern­ments “always run out of other people’s money.”

  • Dmitry

     With all due respect, lest do the math.

    Page 6 (reference by Evan Glass) gives minimum income for 1 person as 30,000. Rent for 1 bedroom (same post by Evan) is 1069 per month. As far as I know, most renters are looking for 25% income ratio. Mortgage application usually looking max for 30%. So, if I want to rent 1bd at 1069 I have to have 42K annually or 51K for mortgage.

    So, who will pay the difference ?

    And according to the same post thats the max allowed high income limit.

    It is subsidized housing.

  • pagodat

    Where are people getting the idea that this is going to be an “all affordable housing” building?  It seems pretty clear from the article that there will be market rate and below market rate units, and the advertising sign means that income guidelines apply if you want the super-low “starting” rents that they are advertising to get people’s attention, not that those will be applied to every apartment.  In other words, pretty much like other big developments in the neighborhood.

  • pagodat

    Ah cripes I missed that one reference in the article.  Well I’m not sure why anyone would be terrified of people making $30-$50k a year.  It has been a mistake in the past to make buildings devoted exclusively to the poorest of the poor but that’s not what’s happening here.

  • ILuvSilverSpring

    it is all affordable housing…all 96 units.  there is no market rate apts.   see this paragraph

    “All of the building’s 96 units are subject to income limits, with 10 units going towards households that make under 50 percent of the Montgomery County’s area median income and 86 units going to households making under 60 percent”

  • pagodat

    Yeah I caught that with my second post.  Still, I made between $30,000 and $43,500 a year when I first moved to downtown Silver Spring and I wasn’t busy committing crimes and bringing hookers around every day, nor were my friends who were in the same income range at the time.  Most of us were too busy, you know, working at our a-couple-years-out-of-college jobs.  So I’m not sure what y’all are so terrified about.

  • Anonymous

    pagodat,

    I’m terrified at your cluelessness. The issue isn’t fear of the potential sinister element that typically surrounds “the projects”. The lament is with the way the deal was brokered and general malaise, I think with the current Statist regime at the helm in Montgomery County…

  • Anonymous

    Good lord, everyone.  “I like the IDEA of affordable housing, as long as there aren’t a lot of teh poors in my actual neighborhood.  But really, some of my best friends are poor.”  If affordable housing is a good idea–and I think it is, as a SSS homeowner–then it’s a good idea, and I’m proud to live in a community that is looking out for all its citizenry.  If crime increases, then we’ll lobby for a stronger police presence.  But let go of your pearls, y’all–the big bad lower-income folks aren’t going to snatch them from your necks.

     

  • Anonymous

    nobody gets it. who cares about poor folks in the neighborhood. i just don’t want to pay for their rent/mortgage etc. as a ss homeowner, i should not have to just because someone else (corgent bank) wants a tax break and the county wants yet another program.

  • pagodat

    Anon, there are several people right here in this comments thread complaining about it bringing crime or the perception of crime.  Just because that’s not what YOU are concerned about doesn’t mean that’s what nobody is concerned about.

  • Anonymous

    pagodat, having eyes connected to my brain, I know people in this comments thread are complaining about it bringing crime or the perception of crime.  But that hasn’t happened yet, and it’s deeply disheartening to see so many people who are purportedly “in favor of affordable housing” have an immediate and knee-jerk reaction that moderate income residents necessarily cause an increase in crime.  My point is not that no one is concerned about crime.  My point is that affordable housing is a good enough cause to wait and see whether crime actually increases before freaking out.

  • pagodat

    Sorry, I was responding to the anonymous who was terrified at my clueless ability to read the entire thread instead of only that person’s posts.

  • Anonymous2

    Ha ha–oops.  Perils of being too chicken/lazy to post under a better name.  Sorry for the response and its tone!

  • Pablo

    I agree with whichever Anon said the idea stinks. Especially for Silver Spring (yes, I own a home a few blocks from this newest “project”). “Affordable housing”  has a certain cachet, evoking high-minded notions of social responsibility. It’s really a way for developers to get the County’s attention and to fast-track approval of their projects, or rescue them from a bad business decision.  The damage is done when housing is restricted to a certain income group. Income restrictions prevent housing units from gaining value if a neighborhood improves. Therefore, the only direction income restricted housing and the neighborhoods surrounding it can go, is down. As painful as it may seem, if one can’t afford to pay full market value then one has no business buying/renting there. If “average” is the kind of city SS wants to be, then keep it up – we’re on the way. Conversely, if Silver Spring can find a way to move its median income up, then its quality of life factors will improve as well. Since affordable housing production moves income levels down, it has the opposite effect.
    SS needs to be attractive to people with the money to build and renovate expensive homes, spend money in our restaurants and support our cultural organizations. This “hand out” is a mistake. 

  • Anonymous

    More on the way: The Galaxy project under construction just a stone’s throw from the Argent is to have another 80+ units set aside for subsidized rental.

  • Pablo

    Jeez. Think I’ll just make my basement available too, with free ObamaCare.  

  • Anonymous2

    Any evidence that spending is down in our housing prices, restaurants and retail sectors due to the affordable housing in Gramax and on Thayer?  Any evidence that it hurt Bethesda?  Seriously, I’d like to know. 

  • nemn

    ** Comment deleted for namecalling. Feel free to voice your opinions on the subject of this article but please don’t personally insult people. It’s off topic, rude, and doesn’t encourage debate in the matter. ***

  • David S.

    As a very near neighbor – across the street and also a home owner – my wife and I don’t appreciate the change from Condo to rental units being made behind the scenes so to speak vs. a community mtg of informing us from the County council. This is prime time property as are the units and fixures within. Regardless of the cost, there is nothing in place that we can see to stop multiple families by combining incomes from thus being able to afford and thus reside there. This is a safe neighborhood – yes our condo faces out into the street of East West and we feel quite safe living here. I am more concerned with the building being kept in the quality of condition that it now is including it’s surrounding property. With construction finally completed in this area it has become a very pleasant area to walk and esp to sit out in the evenings and enjoy the community. There is a sig. problem of speeding buses, trucks, cars and motorcycles on East West esp if the light at Blair Mill Road is Green but I have spoken with the County police (Silver Sprng startion who has jurisdiction and they will do a speed study soon. With all of the properties and thus residents and also employees of NOAA and Discovery walking these streets there have been too many close calls as the above vehicles are not slowing down at crosswalks. This is our home and we value it regardless of the monetary worth. For the time being and this economy all values are being depleted.

  • Katarina

    I have not read all the commnets, but I still want to post my comment. I am 26 years old woman from Europe (living in the United States for over 5 years now) and applied for an apartment in the Argent. I am a hard working individual who works in accounting field and study the same field on my free time. My family does not live here and I fully support myself. Only because I moved from Europe, I had to start my studies at the university again and, therefore, I do not have a degree yet and I am not making too much money. This does not mean that I will bring a crime to the area. I have never even received a parking ticket!!! I am an outstanding resident with excellent background. My manners are probably better than many of you who write here without taking into consideration that there are nice people who don’t make that much money. I am very disappointed that you throw everyone into the same group. Are all of you oustanding citizens?! Probably not… I understand your concerns, however, keep in mind that the management is very careful with selecting residents and aware of all your concerns. I have a friend who applied as well. He is in a grad school (part-time), very religious, and polished young man. That’s 2 units out of 96. Don’t you think there are more people like us, “low-income” citizens you “condo-owner”s have to be concerned about?!

    Thank you!

  • Pablo

    Katarina,

    Welcome to America. The first think you may notice is that the U.S. is NOT Europe. While you are here, (especially Montgomery County) you will also, no doubt encounter the American progressives who have modeled themselves and their efforts on that of Europe, for Marxism is European in origins and the basis of progressive desires – equal outcome, socialism and forced distribution of wealth by government, all under the guise of “social justice.” While I was living in Europe I relaized that Marxism could take hold in Europe because people were used to someone always being elevated over them, class wise, so Marxism was to a European just a new boss. Most Europeans did not care WHO was giving the orders so long as the result was as good or better than the old boss. Not so with Americans. We have a boss alright and his name is the United States Constitution. 

    The Constitution fails to mention any other entity that gets to dictate to us. He tells us we are free men with rights granted by the Creator, whomever that may be, and not granted by other men. Rigid class structure is nothing if not the result of men getting to classify other men. That is not at all what American’s are about.

    And to demonstrate the fool’s errand progressives are bent upon, they do not recognize this reality, but no news there – progressivism is not about reality – it is about “what if?” “What if” we could convince people that autonomy and Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are the cause of all the inequity? “What if” we could get Americans to think more like those enlightened Europeans? “What if” we could sell to Americans the concept that the rich are so because they took what was rightfully belonging to the populace – the peasants in the European vernacular?

    Bottom line: In spite of all America’s faults and shortcomings, someone from the lower classes can STILL greatly improve their station in life in this great country. By working for what they get and earning their good fortune – and living with in their means instead of accepting handouts.

  • David S.

    Iatarina; You are right in what you say re your need for affordable housing; most people in this metro area not having the dual or higher incomes do have the right to afordable housing. However, there is more to the picture and story than what you may be aware of. One point first, I am retired but also a 100% diaabled veteran who along with my income and my wife’s allowed us to purchase our condo several years back – we have worked hard to achieve this. The problem neghborhood wise was the Argent was scheduled to be sold as condos which meant a managing company and condo fees would ensure the building’s upkeep and resident access. The community did not have a say in this somewhat underhanded transition from condo to rental property as we are supposed to under Montgomery County by laws and this is meant to ensure that units are reserved for low income but foremost that it is not a slum landlord that buys the bldg and then walks away from it foresaking any maintenance and upkeep as well as ensuring that multiple families of 10 for example do not move into an apt meant for one family of 3 or 4 for various reasons of safety and sanitation.   I and my wife have advanced degrees and well know the issues of living costs esp in a city like D.C.  We have an investment in this community and as you can see by note my concern lies also with the safety of individuals and pets due to the high speed of cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles using this street – East West. As you may know or will learn, we have in this country the right to speak up – some do with enlightenment, well meaning, and insight while others are narrow minded self serving perspectives.  Yes we own our condo which faces out into the street and has the bird bath in front along with numerous plants – it is our home and our envestment and yours will be your home but a temporary living arrangement however long that may be Katarina. I can only say ‘welcome to the neighborhood and your new home.’ David

  • Anonymous7

    I’m just mad because if this is now all low income housing (and more is on the way) it won’t have any effect on pulling my rediculously high rent down.  So next time my apartment raises my rent 6% (like they did this year), I’ll have nothing to point to to argue for a lower rate.  Everything going in now is either “luxury” or subsidized.  We also won’t have any options if we want to move because we’ll be excluded from over half the places on our block (if the thing about Galaxy is true) due to income guidelines.  And we only make just a little about the income guidelines, not that much, plus I’m in school so I have crazy loans that have to come out of that income, we can’t afford all these luxury expensive places.  They should be building just regular apartments or just regular condos, not ones with all this granite/hardwood/stainless/exensive stuff.  Maybe then (more) people could afford to live there.

  • Anonymous7

    I don’t mind subsidized housing; I do mind subsidizing housing that is way nicer, fancier, posh, than where I currently live on the same block and that is more expensive than I could afford if I they were to sell it for the market rate.



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