Last Friday's dedication ceremony at Magruder's Discovery, a new housing project in Bethesda, was somewhat untraditional; it started with a bagpipe concert and ended with a cook-out.
Magruder's Discovery is itself out of the ordinary. The $5.5 million project, financed by a public agency and private investors, is the first all-subsidized rental unit in Montgomery County.
The county's Housing Opportunities Commission manages the complex and owns the land, a 7.7-acre site bordering Cabin John Park on Westlake Drive and right across from Montgomery Mall. But the 12 three-story buildings were financed by a group of 25 investors looking for a tax break.
"The investors can take advantage of the depreciation on owning a rental unit," explained Joyce Siegel, a community relations specialist for the HOC. "Since HOC is tax exempt (as a government agency), we wouldn't get that gain by owning the buildings."
"This is the assisted housing unit of the future," said William Dockser, chairman of the board of CRI, Inc., the company that formed the 25-investor limited partnership. "This is the first we've financed in Montgomery County and hopefully we can do it again."
Residents in the 134 one- and two-bedroom garden apartments must qualify for Section 8 funds, a federal rental subsidy that guarantees tenants pay no more than 25 percent of their income on housing.
The maximum rent at Magruder's Discovery, with no subsidy figured in the total, would be $418 for a one-bedroom and $472 for a two-bedroom apartment.
According to Section 8 regulations, a four-member family must earn less than $19,350 for an apartment at Magruder's Discovery; income guidelines vary according to family size.
The residents, who started moving in last January, all live or work in Montgomery County. Prior to moving to Magruder's Discovery -- named for an early Scottish settler at the time of the Revoluntionary War who owned much of the land in the area -- most were living in private apartment buildings in other parts of the county.
"I was about to turn off the radio one morning when I heard an announcement about Magruder's," said Louise Montague, who works in Rockville. "I pay $203 (for a one-bedroom apartment) and I'm near where I work. I consider myself fortunate." Montague's husband died recently after a long illness, leaving her "with no savings, no insurance, nothing," she said.
The spacious apartments have all-electric appliances, air conditioning and dishwashers. Ten of the apartments are designed for the handicapped, and are equipped with benches in the shower and easy-reach light switches and cupboards, among other features.
"It's working real well for us," said Edna Trail, whose husband Joe has been confined to a wheelchair or hospital bed for eight years. "Joe could never take a shower where we used to live. And we lived right next to a big hill. Now it's so easy to get him outdoors."
"There's a real balance here," said Harold Kramer, chairman of the Housing Opportunities Commission. "We have housing for people who were raised in Montgomery County of work here and now can't afford to live here. And there are people whose housing was disrupted by condominium conversions."
A breakdown of Magruder's current occupancy shows that 57 percent are white, 21 percent are black and 17 percent are Hispanic. Most of the 113 children are preschoolers.
"The next thing we have to work on is day care," said Lorraine Bialy, the resident manager. "It seems sometimes there are kids everyplace.
"There's a good feeling here," she said, as she looked around at some of her neighbors. "We have a place we can be proud of."