Living a half-block away from the Bible Way Temple is a huge perk for many residents of Golden Rule Plaza in Northwest Washington. Others say the strongest draw for them is that their neighbors are all from their own older generation.
"I love it," Lula Thomas, 58, said of life in the 119-unit-building. "It is so peaceful. It is all seniors. No parties and not all of that loud music."
Well, some parties and some music -- on a recent Saturday, at a monthly birthday celebration, two singers sang gospel.
William Watson, 79, and his sister Emma Watson, 76, arrived early for that party. The Watsons were dressed to the nines, she in a red dress with green accents and a glittery skullcap, he in a gray suit.
"Normally there are a lot of people from Bible Way Church," William Watson said as he sat in the building's lobby while the members of the birthday committee brought in cake, soda and ice cream. The Watson siblings share one of the building's two-bedroom apartments.
"I think it is very comfortable here, all of the appliances. And everything is very nice," he said.
The high-rise building is only a few months old; it opened in November. It is the latest realization of what the late founder of Bible Way, Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, considered part of his church's ministry -- the construction of affordable inner-city housing. In the 1970s, the church built townhouses and another high-rise in the neighborhood. Although the church doesn't own Golden Rule Plaza, it helped sponsor the building, which was financed with tax-exempt bonds and tax credits.
Every kitchen has a microwave with an exhaust fan, dishwasher and garbage disposal. Apartments are individually metered for electricity and all are cable-ready. Residents control their air conditioning and heat. Each floor has a laundry room and small sitting area.
While the Watsons and several other residents waited, Yvonne Simms, 63, pushed a grocery cart into the community room's kitchen. The counters were covered with large aluminum containers of food and the stovetop was filled with pots. Ann Mosk, 59, was washing up. The aroma wafted from the kitchen into the community room and the adjacent but empty arts and crafts room.
"We are just really getting it together," Mosk said. "We are all new, the building is new and it takes time to get things together. . . . The only thing that is together is the birthday club."
For approximately 30 residents, Mosk and Simms, along with Thomas, prepared a feast of fried chicken, baked chicken, barbecued chicken, collard greens, candied yams, deviled eggs, roast beef, rice, rolls, green beans and more.
The long rectangular community room was decorated with balloons, the tables topped with tablecloths and finished off with paper cups, napkins jauntily poofing out. At the far end of the room, away from the festivities, leather chairs were set in a spot where there were plans to put a flat-screen TV.
William Watson stood and recited scripture. "Now I will sing a song for you," he said. Singing with his eyes closed, a slight smile on his face: "Going home to live with Jesus since I laid my burdens down."
Two baritones performed after Watson. The men with their keyboard and microphone sang for more than two hours, the crowd often joined in, clapping and singing.
Edna Blue, 58, arrived to sit with her mother, Laura Veney, 74, who is confined to a wheelchair. Their apartment is designed to be accessible for wheelchair users and is "very spacious," Blue said. Like all the units in the building, theirs has an emergency pull in each bedroom and bathroom.
The building also has a hang-tag system, known as the "I'm OK system." Tanisha Young, the community manager, said, "Each resident when they get up in the morning has to use it. It goes in at night and then they take it out and put it back out in the morning." Building access is controlled and there are security cameras.
"My mother had a fit to bring her down here," Blue said.
"They take care of each other. The lady with the cane rolled her in here. Put her cane on the wheelchair and rolled her in here," she said.
To live in the building, the head of household must be at least 62 years old, while an accompanying occupant can be as young as 55. There are also minimum and maximum income levels, according to Kevin O'Malley, vice president and part owner of CIH Properties Inc., which manages the building for owner Golden Rule LP. The income level is based on household size. A single individual can't make less than $17,760 or more than $30,450 a year. The building offers a "tremendous opportunity for seniors to have an affordable place to live by Washington, D.C., standards," O'Malley said.
Doris Jones, 74, pushed Veney's wheelchair to the party. Jones lives in one of the two-bedroom, two-bath apartments. "Since I was one of the first people to make an application, I asked for the largest one," she said. "I just like this building, nice and large. Big enough for me."
She said, "Parking before too long might become a problem. But, right now, I am juggling two cars and I am not having a problem." According to Young, there are 37 spots in the open lot next to the building and parking stickers will soon be issued.
As she ate the birthday feast, Jones said with satisfaction, "I am next door to my church. I can go to church anytime I want to."