For two months, tenants of Arlington's Buckingham Apartments, located near the intersection of Glebe Road and Pershing Drive, have been troubled by the sale of 1,352 units of their more than 1,800-unit complex to a Chicago developer. They have feared that the project's conversion into condominiums or cooperative housing would change their community, and more importantly, price many of them out of their homes.

Last week the Arlington County Board took a step toward helping those residents deal with the situation. The board, in its Saturday meeting, unanimously appropriated $25,000 in community development funds for a study to determine the feasibility of maintaining low- and middle-income rental housing in the project.

"We're very pleased and we're very delighted. . . . We want to do something with Buckingham that's never been done before," said Susan Shanley, president of the 500-member Buckingham Tenants Association, which has been pressing for some relief since the sale.

Shanley says the association's goal is to maintain the present tenant income levels at Buckingham because "87 percent of the people do not make enough to purchase [their units] and could not even afford a one-bedroom" unit if the developer's conversion plans are carried out. "Those people [the 87%] make less than $25,000."

Once the feasibility study begins, Shanley says, it will look at methods of "saving a substantial portion of the community" through either public or private assistance to the tenants or through a plan to purchase most of the units from Stein and Co., Buckingham's new owners.

The Stein firm already has discussed some purchase options with the Buckingham association, including possibly matching the county's $25,000 for the study. One of the developer's plans, scheduled to begin July 1, will allow tenants to buy 372 units at what Shanley says is "a significant discount" rate through August, when the units will be offered to the public.

Despite the discount proposal, Shanley says the same 87 percent that would be forced to leave if the complex is converted to condominiums or cooperatives cannot even afford these specially priced units.

Of the 372 that are up the special sale, one is a one-bedroom efficiency, 256 are regular one-bedrooms and the others are two- or three-bedroom units, she said.

Shanley says prices for the first phase of unit sales, to begin next week, are expected to be in the high $50,000 range for fully refurbished units, in the mid-$50,000s for specially priced tenant units, mid-$40,000s for special tenant non-refurbished units and in the high-$30,000s for the elderly and severely handicapped.

Tenants making purchases will also get $25 discount for each month they've lived at Buckingham.

Another plan being discussed calls for the tenants' association to purchase the remaining 980 units at no profit to the Stein company. But Shanley says even that is going to be tough, because the association must make the purchase by October. That, she says, is the reason the association hopes the study will begin by the end of the week.

Although the association expects that the Stein company will offer the matching funds for the study, Shanley says she has no guarantee of that because company president Richard Stein "never said he would give us any money. He just said he was going to consider a proposal where we could buy the remaining units."

The Klingbeil Management Group of Ohio, Buckingham's previous owner, kept 465 of the units when it sold most of the complex to Stein in April. Those units have since been renamed Glebe Road Apartments and any future plans for them have not been announced.

"We're going to contact Mr. (James) Klingbeil and see what his plans are and try to work out the preservation of some of his units too," Shanley said.

The allotment of funds for the Buckingham study calls for a three-member panel to come up with purchase proposals to the tenants association. The panel will consist of a developer and two attorneys -- one knowledegable in federal housing projects and the other experienced with local zoning laws.

"We sincerely hope (a purchase) will be feasible in some way . . . . We're having a massive displacement here, it's a human tragedy," Shanley said. "There are elderly persons, persons in school and single parents or people who aren't fortunate enough to make a lot of money.

"Those kinds of places where people can find some reasonably priced housing are disappearing in Arlington County."