Silver Spring Complex Builds on a History of Hope
Saturday, August 5, 2006
Great Hope Homes was built in the 1970s to provide affordable, modern housing for an extended family that represented an early black settlement in Montgomery County.
The rental complex sits on Good Hope Drive, just east of New Hampshire Avenue about six miles north of Interstate 495. Upper Paint Branch Park borders the community to the south and west, giving residents plenty of opportunities for picnicking and hiking on about five miles of trails.
The wooded area had long been home to the Burton family, which migrated from North Carolina generations ago. The family formed a tight-knit community with few modern resources. "It was a house, a shack and some trailers" along a dirt road, said family member Mike Withers, who grew up in the community and now lives nearby. "No electricity, no hot water."
In the late 1960s, Montgomery County decided to purchase the land, install sewer and water systems, and build more substantial housing, according to Washington Post reports at the time. The residents feared they would not be able to purchase the resulting homes, so a nonprofit group of churches mobilized by Annie Collins -- a Good Hope neighbor and National Institutes of Health biochemist -- sponsored the construction.
The resulting Great Hope Homes consists of 90 two-story townhouses and 14 piggybacked units. All are brick with vinyl siding, surrounded by dense foliage and green lawns.
Although Withers has fond memories of playing on the dirt road amid trailers filled with relatives, moving into a brand-new Great Hope townhouse at the age of 14 was an unexpected boost. "That changed my life, putting a key in that door," he said. It prompted thoughts about his future. "You have something to think about tomorrow."
Longtime resident Lottie Kelly remembers the early days of the community, when neighbors all knew each other. "The Burton kids all lived here, but they're all gone," she said. Kelly's sister, Edith Slater, moved there in 1974 and still lives there, as well.
"There are a significant number of people who've been here for more than 20 years," said Robert Goldman, president of the Montgomery Housing Partnership, which owns Great Hope Homes. "There's a reason to preserve it -- a real history to the property," in addition to the practical need to preserve three-, four- and five-bedroom rental housing in the county, he added.
But the community deteriorated over the years, especially during the rise in drug activity during the 1980s and early 1990s, Withers said. "Things got rough when the crack epidemic started. There were police here all the time. . . . This place had a reputation. A single [police] car would not come alone," he said. To restore some safety to the neighborhood, "the police had to provide a heavy, heavy presence here."
In 2000, when the affordable-housing restrictions on the community expired, its California-based owner planned to sell it to luxury townhouse developers. But with Withers's help, the Montgomery Housing Partnership persuaded the county and the owner to allow the nonprofit partnership to buy the complex for $4.6 million, Goldman said.
Funding for the purchase and development came from a number of sources, including Maryland tax-exempt bonds, the Montgomery County Department of Housing, county low-income-housing tax credits and private grants.
The property is designated as affordable housing, with 36 of the 104 units offered to households earning less than 50 percent of the area's median income and 58 units for households making below 60 percent of the median. The other 10 units are unrestricted, but given the demand for affordable housing, these also tend to rent at affordable rates, Goldman said.