Since before Christmas, the 2,600 tenants of the Broadmoor apartment complex in Silver Spring have known that their development would be sold March 1, but they have not known whether they could afford to stay when a new owner took over.
The same uncertainty had county housing officials extremely worried: For more than a month they have put everything else aside to make sure that the Broadmoor stayed a low- and moderate-income enclave. But it wasn't until this weekend that they felt they had a good chance of succeeding.
"It's all looking good," one housing official said this weekend."We have a plan of approach and it seems to be working."
Until recently, however, county officials believed that the Broadmoor, located at 16th Street and East-West Highway, was destined to turn back into what it once was: a complex of luxury apartments of condominiums.
If that happened, the residents of the 1,120 units in this forest of nine brick buildings would be forced to look elsewhere. And Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest areas in the nation, already has 20.000 fewer moderately-priced housing units than it needs.
'If the man say go, where are we going to go?" said Lottie Bennett, who chose the Broadmoor two years ago as a decent alternative to her deteriorating apartment in the inner city. "They can't go back to D.C. They're pushing us out of there."
In an effort to prevent the worst possible consequences for the tenants, who have almost nowhere to go in the county. County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and his housing advisers are attempting to develop an attractive bargain of tax breaks and government-backed financing for prospective buyers of the privately owned complex. In return, officials hope the new owners will provide some lower-cost units.
But while they are negotiating with prospective buyers to make sure the complex does not become a center of high-priced appartments, Gilchrist and his housing officials are also fighting to make sure that the complex does not turn into a slum.
While the property is expected to bring at least $11 million at the sale five weeks hence, a minimum of $3 million would have to be invested to bring it in compliance with county housing codes, housing officials said.
About a year ago, an official inspection uncovered some 1,000 code violations, from leak roofs to waste-encrusted trash chutes. A recent tour of the building indicated that many of these problems remain.
"It was beautiful when we came here," Marian Menendez said wistfully. She and her three children moved to the Broadmoor six years ago and now pay $384 for their three-bed-room unit.
"The people were nicer," she added. "It was great for the children. Now people hide in their apartments, not talking to each other. We don't feel secure any more. But where are we supposed to go?"
For several years, the stark brick buildings set closely together in a ravine have been a thorn in the county's side because of persistent housing code violations and management's counterclaims that some tenants were destroying the property.
Former County Executive James P. Gleason sometimes found himself standing between opposing sides shouting at each other in tenant-management battles.
"See that window?" said Janet Flather, who moved to her apartment four years ago from upper Montgomery County. "It's been broken ever since I've lived here. The toilet backs up all the time and the dishwasher is no good. I've complained so much I'm tired of complaining."
Although there are hundreds of children at the Broadmoor, their only playground consists of four swings -- two of them are broken -- and two small merry-go-rounds. The large swimming pool usually is open only one month each summer because persistent health code violations regularly lead to its shutdown.
During a recent tour, tenants pointed out mildewed and soiled carpets from leaky roofs, empty fire extinguishers and apartment doors so frail on their hinges that they could be kicked in by an average-size adult. Front doors of most buildings have no locks and mice are a constant problem, tenants said.
Privately, housing officials conceded a month ago that it was only a matter of time before the Broadmoor -- a prime 30-acre parcel located only three blocks from the Metro station -- would turn into luxury complex, the way it had started out when it was built in the 1950s.
At one point, to head off this possibility, the tenants asked the county government to buy the complex and resell it to them as a cooperative, but Gilchrist apparently ruled that out. Then gradually, as housing officials studied the real estate market in the area, they began to feel that, as one said, "this project just doesn't have to be taken out of the (low- and moderate-income) market it's in now."
In part, this is because the situation wasn't as critical as was originally thought, one housing official said this weekend. Also, he added, the government has enough different options to offer a buyer to persuade him to keep the apartments within their current price range.
At the moment, an average apartment at the Broadmoor rents for about $280 a month, with the top prices running around $400.
The tenants, two-thirds of whom earn between $5,000 and $15,000 annually are still distrustful of both the government and of the comlex's management.As several pointed out, they first read of the impending sale of the complex in the newspaper.
And they are concerned that other people, both in and out of government, are indifferent to their situation. "There are a lot of subsidized families here," said Lottie Bennett. "I think they have just as much right to have a place to lie as everyone else."