The Mormon Church, which has unofficially turned the Washington metropolitan area into its Eastern U.S. center, has purchased a Montgomery County apartment complex for the private use of church members.
In addition, the church (properly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has bought five acres in Prince George's county near Andrews Air Force Base for an eastern U.S. welfare center solely for Mormons. Church spokesman Lee Roderick said the multimillion-dollar project will eventually include a food store, a food warehouse, a cannery, grain storage and processing facilities and a milk processing plant.
The projects serve the 300,000 Mormons east of the Rocky Mountains. They join a previously purchased dairy farm in Fauguier County, a motel in Bethesda and a diary farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore, as part of the church's objective to take care of its own.
The Mormon population in the metropolitan area has more than doubled in the past decade to 25,000 members.
Conversion of the 44-unit Brookside Apartments in Kensington to Mormon use has sent tenants looking for housing in a nearly saturated apartment market in Montgomery County.
The Brookside Apartments will house mainly retired Mormons working at the multipired marble Mormon Temple in Kensington.
At least a half dozen elderly women from the apartments will be displaced and are upset about it. "We're running into high prices and long waiting lists of from three to five years," said one elderly Brookside woman who with her friends has already looked at a "pageful" of ads for possibily new residences. "It's just terrible."
As a condition of the more than $900,000 sale to the church's Zion Securities Corp., Brookside tenants must vacate by July 1.
The new owner increased some rents by as much as $50. Former owner Aaron Robins had the habit of allowing some of the older residents to pay less as a friendly subsidy, but the Mormon firm believed the rents should be "standardized," according to a church spokesman.
One elderly tenant said she appealed to the new managers, Glen and Lora Rieff who are Mormons, to stay on at Brookside after the deadline.
"He told me the church elders had thought this whole thing through and prayed for guidance about what was the right thing to do. I said I was praying to the Lord, too," said the woman ruefully.
Some Brookside tenants were paying as low as $159 for a one-bedroom unit - and with that they had a balcony, sliding glass doors and plenty of light. Now the Brookside rents are up to $200 for a one-bedroom and $225 for a two-bedroom, and the displaced tenants - some of whom are on Social Security - said the cheapest units they can find that are still "decent" start about $275 for a one-bedroom.
One younger tenant said she was forced to buy a condominium. "Most everything in Kensington has gone condo," she complained.
Before the Brookside, Mormon officials tried unsuccessfully to buy the high-rise Kensington House across the street, according to church spokesman Roderick. They also looked at Sligo Creek Gardens but discounted the complex for church use.
The Brookside was purchased primarily for retired couples who voluntarily come to Washington for about 18 months to serve at the $15 million Mormon temple, whose towers loom above the Capital Beltway.
Less than a mile away from the Brookside, the temple is within walking distance for the older couples. They also will pay the new standardized rents. "We had to have something close to the temple. Frankly, many of them are terrified of the traffic here," said Roderick.
About 630 individuals serve in a given week at the temple, which is closed to the public and those Mormons who have not been designated by church officials as members in good standing.
About 180 of these volunteers need housing, Roderick said, "and obviously we cannot accommodate all of them." The church currently has no more plans to purchase housing here, he said.
As for the displaced tenants at Brookside, "it's sad," he said. "It is my guess no current tenant will be able to stay on there . . . In any place the church might have bought property, someone would have been displaced."
The Kensington temple, the only one east of the Rockies, is the site of several distinctly Mormon ceremonies, such as "selestial marriage" or marriage "for time and eternity, sealing couples and their children to them until the end of time. Also performed are proxy marriages for one's dead relatives in an effort to gain for them a better place in eternity.