Don’t expect Ike Leggett to stop pushing for affordable housing in Silver Spring—both for seniors and others.
On Wednesday, the Montgomery County executive doubled down on the county’s efforts to add below-market-rate housing in the community as officials celebrated the grand opening of The Bonifant—an apartment building next to the Silver Spring Library that offers 149 affordable units for seniors.
The building is in a prime location—in the middle of downtown Silver Spring and adjacent to the new library and future Purple Line station.
The Bonifant at 929 Bonifant Street is next to the Silver Spring Library. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Leggett said he chose to develop the county-owned site with affordable senior housing instead of other development proposals that could have netted the county “a great deal of money.”
“But the difference would have been that we would have not provided our seniors with the kind of housing they need at the location that they need,” Leggett said. “Far too often when we have resources, we build senior housing in isolated places away from everybody else. Almost as though we want to just set them aside. But I’ve said repeatedly we’ll treat seniors with dignity and respect in Montgomery County and they need and respectfully have to have housing in the locations where they want them.”
Leggett added that the county was challenged by neighbors and others about the project, and that he expects to be challenged in the future on his plans to expand affordable housing in the county.
He said in a phone interview with Bethesda Beat after the ceremony that Silver Spring alone may need thousands of affordable housing units for seniors just to satisfy current demand.
“Keep in mind, our senior population is growing rapidly,” Leggett said.
He said the county is mulling options to build additional affordable housing in Silver Spring—including mixed affordable housing for low-income adults and seniors at the former library on Colesville Road. He said options for that site, however, are limited by its small size.
Leggett also said he’s looking for opportunities to build affordable housing elsewhere in the county, including in urban centers such as Rockville and Bethesda.
“Everywhere in the county we have an opportunity I think we have to push the window,” Leggett said. “If we don’t do so, you can’t get it done.” He said, though, there’s a greater need for affordable housing for seniors when compared to other types of affordable housing.
The $44 million Bonifant was funded and built through a public-private partnership of county, state and federal agencies as well as with some private financing. The developer Donohoe built the structure that features a fitness center, community room and outdoor lounge area as amenities. Studio apartments at the building start at about $900 per month while a two-bedroom starts at about $1,050—far less than neighboring luxury buildings that rent for more than $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.
The community room, exercise room and outdoor gathering space at The Bonifant. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
The county will continue to own the land at the site, although it is being leased to Montgomery Housing Partnership, a nonprofit and co-developer of the project, under a 77-year lease. All but 10 of the 149 units are available at reduced rents to seniors 62 and older who have less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.
The county provided a $13.7 million loan for the building. Officials said that loan as well as other bonds taken out for the project will be repaid with rent revenue from the building. The county is not responsible for paying for ongoing maintenance or operations at the building, according to Robert Goldman, president of Montgomery Housing Partnership.
The building also has 6,300 square feet of retail space.
Since the building’s ground-breaking in 2014, more than 800 people have expressed interest in renting units, according to the county. Goldman said Wednesday it’s about 60 percent leased and residents for the remaining units will be selected from a waiting list via a lottery.
One of the new residents spoke briefly at the ceremony Wednesday and said she felt blessed to receive an apartment after her and her husband had struggled living on Social Security payments after he lost his job.
“They had a lottery and I won,” she said. “I’m so thankful for everyone responsible for that.”
Interior unit photos and the view from the 11th floor of the Bonifant. Credit: Andrew Metcalf