With a modesty that almost concealed her excitement, Guadalupe Pierson gave a tour of her new two-story apartment. The small living area was neatly furnished, the eggshell white blinds opened just enough to let in a stream of sunlight.
Upstairs, her son's bed was decorated with bright blue and red sheets. A small school of fish swam in a rectangular tank; the boy's toys and sports equipment were stored in huge walk-in closets.
The appeal of the apartment to Pierson is more than cosmetic, though. "I don't have to worry about being evicted," she said.
Pierson is one of the first of 44 women and their children to move into Pleasant View House in Wheaton, a housing complex for single parents carved out of an old elementary school. The school was renovated for $3.5 million to provide housing for a rotating pool of the poorest of the county's 23,000 single-parent households.
Pleasant View House will offer the women job or education counseling, a 100-child day-care center and workshops that are designed to help them become independent in about two years.
"We'd like to create an environment where people can have a more effective and efficient way of living," said Kathleen Guinan, executive director of Crossway Community Inc., a private, nonprofit organization that will manage the county-owned housing.
Pleasant House opens today after seven years of community opposition, including two lawsuits and complaints that the complex would bring crime and undesirable people to the neighborhood of older homeowners and young families.
This week, though, the neighborhood seems to have reached an uneasy truce with the complex. Some neighbors have visited the apartments and some have approached the complex's new residents looking for sitters.
The Pleasant View playground, park and day-care center are open to the community, and residents of the neighborhood are taking advantage of them.
Still, there are questions. Peggy Iraola, who lives six blocks away, said she is concerned about the impact on the property values of houses that border the complex and how the residents will affect the neighborhood.
"I'm sure they have rules that these people have to live by," Iraola said.
"If you are going to give somebody public housing, that's fine, but they have to follow the rules and not bother the other residents," said Joan Atkinson who lives nearby. "I hope they take care of it. But what can you do? You've got to give them a chance."
Norman G. Knopf, a lawyer who represented the neighborhood in the lawsuits, said the community still believes "it's the wrong use at the wrong location."
He added: "The issue still remains whether you satisfy the need by ghettoizing large groups of people into this housing rather than having separate housing units that aren't so conspicuous."
But Montgomery County officials said conversion of public buildings such as schools and the Jessup Blair mansion in Silver Spring is one way to provide needed housing for low-income families.
"We do need to keep doing this kind of thing if we are going to get ahead of the curve" of homeless and poverty-stricken women and children, said Rick Ferrara, director of the county Department of Housing and Community Development.