Tammy Whitehead always stayed far away from Loudoun House, once one of Loudoun County's only subsidized housing complexes. The Leesburg apartments were run-down and crime-plagued.
But last month Whitehead, 31, a receptionist at a Leesburg doctor's office, and her three children moved into a newly renovated apartment in the 248-unit complex at Plaza Street and Edwards Ferry Road. Over the last eight months the 21 low-rise, 27-year-old buildings have undergone a $6.2 million make-over and have been renamed Mayfair Commons.
"I was afraid to even ride near here when it was Loudoun House," Whitehead said. "Now, it's got a 100 percent face lift. It's warm, inviting and comfortable."
Vienna-based KSI Management Corp. spent $25,000 apiece on the units--painting them and replacing appliances, windows, carpet, tiling and light fixtures, said Kim Andreadis, a marketing director at the company. Half of the apartments still are under renovation; KSI officials expect them to be completed by midwinter to early spring.
"People drive by and they can't believe how it looks so different," Andreadis said.
Grass and small shrubs now grow in the playground and swimming pool areas where there were once only rocks and dirt. Beige paint on stairwell walls replaced graffiti. A fitness center and a laundry room were added. Sidewalks no longer have cracks. Hunter-green lampposts dot the re-paved parking lot.
Mayfair Commons rents its apartments only to families who earn 60 percent or less of the area median income. For a family of four, that's about $43,480. There also are income minimums, but former residents can return if they can afford the full rent or have rent-subsidy vouchers to cover what they cannot pay.
The two- and three-bedroom apartments are leased at market rates. The average rent for an 824-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath unit will be $795 a month. A 944-square-foot, three-bedroom unit with one bath will be $895 a month.
"These are places for working-class America," Andreadis said.
Loudoun House was built in the 1970s under a funding mechanism that Congress set up 20 years ago to increase the number of affordable housing units nationwide. Through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, low-interest mortgages were issued to developers who agreed to control rents for low-income tenants for as long as 20 years.
In the past few years Leesburg police have fought to rid the complex of drug activity and crime. They even moved their station next door to the apartments in the fall of 1997, in part because of the crime problem. The few other residents in the largely commercial area, where a thrift store, coin-operated laundry and convenience store sit nearby, complained frequently to police about loud music and people gathered in the complex's parking lots.
KSI bought the complex in 1998 when the rent-control agreement expired. The county housing office gave former residents federally funded rent vouchers and helped them move to other apartments in the county. About 60 families moved out of the county altogether to find affordable housing, said Cindy Mester, director of Loudoun County's housing services.
"This property was controversial because of crime, vandalism," said Richard Knapp, president of KSI Management. "The residents were unhappy. It's gone through quite a transformation."
Despite the problems, former residents of the complex--most of whom were elderly or had several generations of families living in neighboring apartments--were close-knit and helped each other with errands or baby-sitting. Those who now have moved in said they expect some of the same closeness.
"This place now has a new image and will have a new direction and sense of unity," project manager Nguyen Banks said as he showed off his property to town officials at a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Shirley Bell, who lived in Loudoun House for 10 years, toured the renovated apartments because she was curious about how they looked.
"They're so nice and clean and white," she said, as she walked through the buildings. "With it being new, it's going to bring in a whole new breed of people."
Joked her mother, Bessie Gillum, "If we hadn't already found a place to live, I would have liked to move here."
The Reyes family, who moved into the complex this month, said it is an affordable place for them until they have the money to buy a town house. Years ago they had lived in Loudoun House.
"It used to be so ugly, but now it's a pretty place to be," said Sally Reyes, 8, as she showed off her spacious room in their three-bedroom apartment.
Her mother, Yolanda, 28, added: "It's quiet and safe and I can let my kids ride their bikes outside along the walks. It's a real neighborhood."
Naomy Sorto, 23, lived in Loudoun House two years ago with her husband and two children, and they moved back in September because of its convenient location. It is within walking distance of a small department store, a bookshop and a grocery store. It also is close to Sorto's job at the Roy Rogers restaurant on Route 7 and her children's day-care center.
"When we first moved back, we didn't even recognize the place," she said. "Now everything is bright, new and so much better."
75 Plaza St.
Leesburg, Va. 20176
* Application fee: $25 per adult applicant
* Security deposit: $300, including $100 nonrefundable decorating fee
* Lease term: One year
* Utilities: Gas not included
* Occupancy limits: Maximum of four people in two-bedroom units and six people in three-bedroom
* Amenities: Swimming pool, fitness center, tot lot, picnic area
* Pet policy: No dogs; two pets maximum; $300 deposit, of which $150 is refundable