After living for years in Arlington apartments, Art Hodge, a clerk at the Library of Congress and his wife, Peggy, have found their first "really nice" home.
After paying $240 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in a "rough" neighborhood, where their 3-year-old son, David, was afraid to play, the Hodges' dream came true when their application for subsidized housing was approved.
Now they live in a comfortable two-story town house at Strawbridge Square, a new low- and moderate-income subsidized housing development in Lincolnia, Va.
Not only are the Hodges living more comfortable, but they are paying only $188 in rent. The rent and their electricity bill cannot exceed 25 percent of their adjusted gross income. The additional portion of their rent, based on the fair market value of the 128 rental units, is paid by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Strawbridge Square is the result of a five-year struggle by a Virginia Methodist church group dedicated to providing low- and moderate-income housing.
The group, Wesley Housing Development Corporation, sponsored by 99 Methodist churches, decided to concentrate on housing issues after surveying different problem areas such as drugs, the aged, jails, crime and transportation.
"We were absolutely appalled to discover the housing problems in Northern Virginia," said Virginia Peters, executive director of Wesley Housing.
After the agency acquired a site for the development, which was donated to them by the Vernon M. Lynch Sons partnership, the land had to be rezoned. Following that task, the corporation overcame its most difficult obstacle -- persuading residents "that the development was not going to be another ghetto," said Peters.
Using the expertise and occasional financial backing of the National Housing Partnership, the project was completed last month.
The one-to-four-bedroom twon houses and apartments, when finished, will house 30 percent low-income families and 70 percent moderate-income families. According to Peters, a family of four with an income under $12,100 is considered to have a low income and a family of four earning between $12,100 and $19,350 is in the moderate-income class.
Some of the 17 families currently living in Strawbridge Square applied for the housing a year ago. Applicants had to fill out "a stack of forms, and pass a credit check.
"We have been very selective because it's not going to become a ghetto," said Peters. In addition to screening families with boisterous children or who appeared to be careless about upkeep, the development management has devised a set of resident rules for tenants. For example, no pets are allowed, residents must keep yards clean and noise must be held down during certain hours.
"I think it's an answer to a prayer," said Marian Hewett, who lives in a two-bedroom town house in the development. Hewett formerly lived with her 12-year-old son in a one-bedroom apartment in Alexandria for which she paid $274.
The 48-year-old secretary now pays $204 a month rent and no longer has to sleep in her living room.
Another resident who has been battling cancer for four years lives with her two children in a three-bedroom town house at the new development. Following five major operations and suffering serious side effects from treatments, she was unable to work and now lives on welfare payments of $320 a month.
She pays $20 a month in rent and can simply walk out the door for fresh air instead of having to get dressed and use an elevator to go outside.
The volunteers and two staff employees at Wesley Housing are very encouraged by the "happy endings they witnessed through their work. According to Peters, they are planning to buy 12 single-family homes in Northern Virginia, which they hope to finance and sell to moderate-income families, who could not otherwise afford to buy a home.
They also hope to buy 100 garden apartments using a grant they received recently from Arlington County. These units also would be made available to low- and moderate-income families.