When Quinnetta Boone moved to Community Homes with her grandparents in 1970, she was 5 years old. "That was ours," she said, nodding at Unit 10317.
The neat townhouses were brand new back then, part of developer James W. Rouse's plan that the new city of Columbia would include affordable housing for hard-working families like Boone's. Her late grandfather, Charles Albert Boone, was a mechanic and truck driver, and her grandmother Gertrude Boone was a school cafeteria worker.
Now 82, matriarch Gertrude Boone is the senior resident at the five clusters of townhouses, collectively known as Community Homes. Tonight, she is scheduled to hold the ribbon to be cut during a ceremony where neighbors, officials, volunteers and religious leaders will celebrate the end of the five-year legal process that helped ensure that Community Homes will remain affordable for the next generation of Columbia's working families.
Quinnetta Boone is raising her son and daughter here now. She has worked her way up from cleaning the management office to running it. With her long history here, she knows everyone and everyone knows her.
"I'm really where I want to be," she said. The affordable units she oversees don't stand out within the villages of Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake.
A family of four must have an income of no more than $67,700 to qualify for residency in Community Homes. The rent on a two-bedroom unit is $569 a month. Two hundred of the units are subsidized through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's project-based Section 8 program. The remaining 100 units are rented at or below the prevailing local market rate. About 500 families are on a waiting list for a townhouse.
"They are coming in every day," Boone said.
Affordable housing is an increasingly scarce commodity in Howard County, where the average two-bedroom apartment rents for more than $1,000 a month. At that price, a decent apartment is far out of reach for the more than 9,500 Columbia workers who wait on tables or cook in restaurants or do maintenance jobs that pay on average a weekly wage of $272 -- or about $14,000 a year, according to data collected by the nonprofit Columbia Housing Corp.
The corporation, at one time known as the Columbia Interfaith Housing Corp., built the townhouses in 1969. It sold them to a for-profit California-based housing business in 1984, with an agreement to ultimately buy the property back. But subsequently, the tax laws changed, complicating the process of repurchasing the townhouses. In December, the corporation completed a nearly $5 million deal to resume ownership.
If the units had remained with the California company, rents could have doubled, said Carole MacPhee, the Columbia Housing Corp.'s executive director.
"Saving these homes was vital," she said.
Even as preparations were underway for this evening's celebration, Boone made her rounds of the property Tuesday, stopping to visit longtime resident Gunda Miller.
"I'll be going. I'll be celebrating," Miller said as she invited Boone into her kitchen for a glass of iced tea. Miller, a retired day-care provider, said the affordable housing she found at Community Homes made it possible to give her sons the advantages of Columbia despite her modest income.
"My sons had the pleasure of riding bikes, playing tennis, being on the swim team," Miller said. "I'm forever grateful to Community Homes."
This evening's rededication ceremony will be held at the offices of Community Homes, 10339 Twin Rivers Rd., at 6:15. It will be followed by a reception at 7 p.m. at nearby Slayton House, located at 10451 Twin Rivers Rd. in Wilde Lake Village Center.