For her 52nd birthday yesterday, Alease Curley, a cleaning woman for the General Services Administration got something she's wanted for 19 years -- home of her own.
Curley didn't mind spending the day unpacking boxes and arranging furniture at her new $68,000 town house in the Wylie Court housing project in Northeast Washington -- a home she was able to obtain through a special city home ownership plan.
Residents will rent the houses for a period of time and each month part of their rent will go into a special fund that eventually will go toward a down payment on the house. Once the down payment is made, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development will help the residents obtain a mortgage loan.
The 28-unit Wylie project is the District's first new public housing project to open since 1974 and the first to provide residents with the chance to own their homes. And, according to Sidney Glee, the city's director of public housing, it may well be the last in the District.
But in the city's two similar projects, many families still have not been able to save enough for a down payment -- even after as long as eight years. Some of the families have had difficulties making their monthly rent payments while others have had to move out of the homes.
Nationally, such "turn-key" programs have not had a high rate of success, Glee said.
But with the Wylie project, city officials have put prospective buyers through a more thorough screening process. Their previous homes were visited and inspected, their neighbors interviewed, as were officials at their children's schools. Credit checks were also done.
Once the applicants were selected for ownership, they were required to attend orientation classes on home ownership. And over the next few months, they will also attend money management counseling sessions.
"We want to be sure these people will be able to keep on top of things," Glee said.
Yesterday was moving-in day at the project. As moving vans rolled in and out, residents got acquainted with their new neighbors, and children tried out the seesaw and slide in the courtyard of the complex.
Alease Curley's new home will let her family live all together again. Previously, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment on 16th Street and Constitution Avenue NE with her 22-year-old daughter, her 19-year-old son and her 8-month-old granddaughter.
"The old apartment got so crowded my son was spending most nights at my counsin's house," said Curley as she sat in her living room, gazing out at the fenced-in patch of grass in back of the town house where her granddaughter will be able to play.
"Every time I look at that grass I think of my mother's home in Virginia.
We had a big back yard with a fence . . . I come from a big family -- there were 15 of us. We always had a home. And that was something I always wanted for myself . . .
"Today, being my birthday, I couldn't have had nothing better."
Curley first applied for her town house last July. "It was a Friday, I remember. I was there at 8:15 in the morning."
She kept checking for news each week with the city housing department. But she didn't receive word of her acceptance until December. "When they told me I was eligible for a three-bedroom, I said, 'Oh Lord, thank you,'" she recalled.
Most of the units have three or four bedrooms. All have a full basement. The residents will have to pay for their utilities in addition to the rent.
For Curley, whose $12,000 income, along with her daughter's totals $23,000, the monthly rent will be $277, or about $100 more than she was paying for her one-bedroom apartment, which was not in public housing.
"The way things are [in the housing market] in D.C., this is the only way for someone like me to get a home," she said.
The Wylie project is near the H Street NE corridor that was virtually destroyed during the 1968 riots. Since then, city housing officials and local businessmen have been trying to rebuild and revitalize this 20-block area from North Capitol Street to Benning Road. But it has been a slow, painful process.
Glee said the city housing department is trying to open another major project for low- and moderate-income families by the end of April -- the Julius Hobson Plaza, an 82-unit complex at First and M Streets and New York Avenue NW. The city will help these families purchase the units as condominiums at prices ranging from $23,500 to $37,500.