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D.C. families move from hopelessness into homes

This Christmas season, 10 families will move into subsidized apartments on Chesapeake Street in the District's Washington Highlands neighborhood. Many residents came from a transitional shelter on Minnesota Avenue NE. They were told this month that they would ring in the New Year with a sense of independence and hope that has eluded them for years.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 12:00 AM

Boxes stuffed with clothes, books and knickknacks were everywhere as a small radio blared holiday tunes. Under a dim light, Alexis Beander and her two girls rummaged through bags full of their belongings.

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Christmas was a few days away, but there was hardly any food in the cupboard, and there were no holiday decorations or a tree. Looking at the bare walls and cluttered living room, Beander had one thought.

"It's . . . it's perfect," she said, sitting on her new couch in her new D.C. apartment, letting out a sigh.

Perfect - because a year ago, she was effectively homeless. Perfect - because two years ago, she was at a West Virginia drug treatment facility, hundreds of miles from her family. Perfect - because for the first time in three years, Tiara, 14, and Jada, 7, and their mother will spend Christmas in their own place.

On Chesapeake Street in Washington Highlands, 10 families this holiday season will move into subsidized apartments, complete with hardwood floors and washer-dryers. Many residents came from a transitional shelter on Minnesota Avenue NE and had been told this month that they would ring in the New Year with a new sense of independence and hope that has eluded them for years.

It's the ultimate present for families that have weathered joblessness, domestic violence and substance abuse. Beander, 40, has her family together and years of PCP and crack use in her rearview mirror. She works part time at a Giant.

"We're stable again," she said. "All that stuff is behind us now."

The apartment building, run by the nonprofit So Others Might Eat (SOME), is filled with people seeking second chances: A father has been reunited with his 16-year-old son after completing a substance abuse program. A mother who endured years of her husband's abuse has settled into the first apartment of her own. A father of two whose job loss spiraled into homelessness will move in next week to take care of his wife and children again under one roof.

The Chesapeake apartments were intended as condominiums until the market went belly up in 2007. SOME bought the property with bonds, private fundraising and subsidies from the District. Completion of the sale and retrofit of the building took three years instead of one as the economy has sputtered.

"Many projects around the city have been delayed. . . . What's sad is that families could have been in the units a lot sooner," said Ken Ellison, SOME's senior housing adviser.

The number of people in families living in homelessness in the District has risen 24 percent in the past four years, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, so more families are waiting for projects that are taking longer to complete.

The Housing Trust Fund Project provides financial support to public and private organizations to help preserve and increase affordable housing. The Chesapeake Street development is part of SOME's strategy to add 1,000 units of affordable housing for families, singles and the elderly.

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