At 82, Hugo Pine knows a thing or two about good housing.
For 20 years he managed a $4 million apartment complex in one of the country's most sought-after locations, Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. And now, long retired and far away from the New York bustle, he has chosen Alexander House, a quiet, luxurious, yet affordable Silver Spring high-rise, as home.
His professional assessment? "It's well taken care of. The building is being run as well as the larger ones, but at a smaller scale," said Pine, who moved to the area to be closer to his youngest daughter. "I'm very happy here."
His home, just a block from the Silver Spring Metro station, is in a downtown area where government and private officials have ambitious redevelopment plans. Montgomery County is beginning the long-awaited construction of a $321 million mixed-use office, retail and residential development. Next to that Discovery Communications Inc., the cable TV company, is building a headquarters.
Alexander House, built and owned by the Montgomery County government's Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), is a 17-floor post-modern style building that offers convenience and comfort to families of varying income. Most of the units are unsubsidized market-rate rentals, but 40 percent are set aside for low- and moderate-income families who rent at subsidized rates.
In 1992, when Alexander House opened, the nearby redevelopment was just a dream. The building was the first major downtown apartment complex built in Silver Spring in more than 20 years, said Zachary Smith, public affairs director at the housing finance agency.
"I think it shows that the county has been very strategic in its approach to ensuring that Silver Spring is redeveloped, or becomes a desirable place for new housing and business development," Smith said.
Betsy Bubier, regional property manager of Polinger, Shannon & Luchs, the company that operates the 311-unit building for HOC, called Alexander House the crown jewel of Silver Spring. Bubier said what attracts people to the apartment complex is the combination of great location and elegant design.
The building's brick-and-stone facade is punctuated with aqua-colored balconies on the top 14 floors and large bay windows on lower levels. At the corner entrance, a sculpted, floral-patterned iron gate opens into a large double-height atrium that leads to an outdoor pool, wooden benches and an exposed courtyard garden.
"It is a fantastic building and architecturally stunning," Bubier said. "It's in a vibrant cosmopolitan area . . . The apartment interiors are not your standard vanilla box. They are exquisitely trimmed, uniquely designed."
Resident Marsha Johnson, who is wheelchair bound, said she is particularly fond of the building's wide exterior and interior doors that allow her easy access around the building. "I plan to live here for the rest of my life," she said.
The building offers the amenities most tenants of high-end high-rise buildings expect. There is a controlled access doorway and 24-hour front-desk security, where safety is maintained, people are greeted and packages are accepted for residents. On the ground level, there is a convenience store that also offers dry cleaning services.
"It's nice to have your packages signed for so you don't have to worry about being home to receive things," said Karin Norington, a Justice Department lawyer.
The building's monthly rents are competitive with similar complexes, ranging from $690 for an efficiency up to $1,265 for the most expensive two-bedroom unit. The county subsidy program, however, reduces those rents for less affluent families.
Of Alexander House's units, 124 are set aside for tenants with low- to moderate-incomes, which is defined as a percentage of the county's median income. Depending on family size, the units are available to people who make as little as $22,891 per year for a single person in an efficiency apartment, up to $47,282 per year for a four-person family renting a two-bedroom unit. With the subsidies, rents range from $610 to $899 per month. The building also accepts Section 8 subsidized housing certificates, which have a different set of rules.
To qualify, applicants must meet standard market rate rental and credit history requirements. The average waiting list for the HOC units is 60 days, Bubier said.
Vanessa Pratt, a staff assistant at the International Monetary Fund, said she is surprised more people are not aware of the housing complex or program. "It's a secret. It's a huge, tall building but no one really sees it or realizes it's an apartment."
But that could be changing as the first phase of the long-awaited county-backed redevelopment project moves ahead and as Discovery Communications Inc. proceeds with the move of its headquarters from Bethesda. Soon residents are supposed to have the American Film Institute practically in their back yard, as well as new shopping options, including a Borders Books & Music store and a Fresh Fields grocery.
"I plan to stay here for at least until I get a house, especially if [the county] follows through with revitalization plans," said Charles Urbany, 33, a two-year resident.
8560 2nd Ave.
Silver Spring, Md. 20910
* Application fee: $25 per applicant
* Security deposit: $250
* Lease term: One year; six months available at higher cost
* Utilities: Not included
* Amenities: Individual washer/dryer; pool and sundeck; business center with computers, copier and fax machine; fitness center; wall-to-wall carpeting; balconies or bay windows; individually controlled heat and air conditioning; controlled access
* Parking: $75 per month in covered garage
* Pet policy: No pets allowed
APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL
EFFICIENCY 31 500 $690
1BR/1BA 165 550 to 655 $800 to $950
2 BR/2BA 115 890 to 1,010 $1,030 to $1,265