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Correction to This Article
A box accompanying a Dec. 31 Apartment Living profile of Gramax Towers in Silver Spring incorrectly said that electricity and water charges are included in rent.
Apartment Living

Affordable Meets Comfortable

The building is a few blocks from the Silver Spring Metro.
The building is a few blocks from the Silver Spring Metro.

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By Sarah Abruzzese
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 31, 2005

Heidi Herrera, 27, is starting her new year with a resolution. On Monday, she plans to begin working out in her apartment building's fitness center.

"It's a small gym, which I would to like to frequent more often," she said.

For the past four months, Gramax Towers in Silver Spring has provided Herrera a quiet, convenient and affordable home while she prepares to take the bar exam. "I have absolutely no complaints," she said.

Gramax Towers was constructed in the 1960s as an office building. The building has carried the Gramax name at least since the early 1980s, when it was rented government office space. But it sat empty through the 1990s, until current owner RST Development LLC completed a $25 million overhaul in 2004, said Michael Shell, the regional property manager for Hercules Real Estate Services Inc., the company that runs the building.

The renovation was a notable project in the revival of Silver Spring in recent years. To do the work, RST used money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state and the county. In return, 80 percent of the apartments in the 15-story building are designated as affordable housing, which means that there are minimum and maximum income requirements. For one person living in a one-bedroom apartment, for example, the minimum income is $20,376 and maximum is $37,500.

Like many residents of the 180-unit building, Herrera prizes her spacious apartment for its views of Washington and its location near downtown Silver Spring. When she was moving from New York, she discovered that Gramax Towers "offers the biggest bang for the buck" -- especially in comparison with New York's small, pricey apartments.

While apartments in the Gramax seem big to a former New Yorker, it's all a matter of perspective. Michael Moore, 25, who has lived in Gramax Towers for a little more than a year, said the apartments are smaller than those in Memphis, where he used to live. But the two-bedroom place he shares with a roommate is big for this area, he said.

Moore, a New Orleans native, said that his home is well laid out and that there is plenty of counter space in the kitchen to create the Creole- and Cajun-inspired family recipes he grew up with. There is enough room for an added microwave, he said, but cabinet space is a little lacking.

Each apartment has a washer and dryer -- a selling point for Corletta Goodwin, 21. Being less than a 10-minute drive from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she works, was also a huge plus. Goodwin said she can get the bus to work just outside the building, on Georgia Avenue. For residents with cars, the building has 70 parking spots available for a monthly rental of $100.

Residents can walk or take a free shuttle to downtown Silver Spring or Metro. Herrera said the shuttle comes every 10 minutes during the day. Moore said he can get from his apartment to his job as a waiter in Dupont Circle in about 25 minutes, walking the few blocks to the Metro station.

And Herrera said she walks to the grocery store, which is just a few blocks away, and to shopping in downtown Silver Spring. "There are all sorts of little restaurants and stores -- a lot of new businesses coming up," she said.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was among the region's most rundown areas. But a spurt of construction has changed that. "The area is cleaning up," Moore said. Several new buildings are under construction in the area around Gramax Towers.

Gramax has a concierge at night and on weekends, whenever the office is closed. The building also has security cameras and controlled access. "I feel completely safe," Herrera said.

Goodwin agreed, and said residents mostly keep to themselves. She said that the building is quiet and that she doesn't hear or even know her neighbors.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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