"Buckingham Village is now a cooperative," announced Chicago real estate developer Richard Stein last week as he ended more than a month of speculation about the future of one of Northern Virginia's largest low-income apartment complexes.

Stein, who is president of Stein and Company, in mid-April bought the aging 1,352-unit garden apartments in Arlington for $48.6 million. Since the purchase, rumors of condo-conversion have been circulating and members of the Buckingham Tenants Association have been bracing themselves for that eventuality.

At a press conference in his Arlington attorney's office last week, Stein outlined plans to offer 372 units for sale on July 1 with the remaining 980 units scheduled to go on the market later in the year.

"What we feel we are doing is recycling housing," Stein told reporters as he explained a discount program that would allow present residents to purchase cooperatives. The units would then be put up for sale to the general public.

Under Stein's plan, the cost of buying into the Buckingham Village cooperative would range from a price in the upper-$20,000 range for efficiencies for the elderly to the mid-$80,000 range for a three-bedroom unit sold to the general public. Stein is offering tenants the opportunity to buy units at a 25 percent discount with $25 deducted from the purchase price for each month the tenant has lived at Buckingham. In addition, elderly and handicapped residents will be eligible for a $5,000 reduction on the selling price.

"These are the most generous discounts we've seen so far in the county," admitted Fran Lunney, executive director of Arlington's Tenant-Landlord Commission. Lunney added that, in spite of the low prices, many tenants still would be unable to purchase their units, and the conversion would further deplete the county's dwindling supply of low-priced rental housing.

The leaders of the Buckingham Village Tenant's Association said last week they would have no formal reaction to Stein's announcement until they fully discussed the developments. Tenant association president Susan Shanley, however, said she was pleased with an offer from Stein that the tenants could purchase the remaining 980 units at cost if they could raise the capital.

"From the tenant's point of view there will be displacement," cautioned Shanley. "But there are people who cannot afford even the discounted units . . . This has got to stop somewhere."