The leader of the United House of Prayer for All People was referred to incorrectly in last week's District Weekly. He is Bishop Walter McCollough.
Bishop William McCullough doesn't like mortgages. That's why his church just paid $7.8 million in cash to build 158 garden apartments in the heart of the Shaw neighborhood.
Paradise Gardens, a group of three-story brown brick buildings at Seventh and L streets NW, is the latest of nearly 250 mortgage-free apartments built in Shaw by the bishop's United House of Prayer for All People in the last eight years.
McCullough is unique among city church leaders: He is the only one building housing for low- and moderate-income families. He also is one of the few ministers trying to help their parishioners with housing problems.
In the early and mid-1970s when federal housing funds were more plentiful, some churches, primarily those in two of the city's riot corridors, built more than 3,000 subsidized apartments.
But in the last few years, as the city's real estate boom forced hundreds of poor church members from their rented homes and apartments and as the number of foreclosures on home mortgages has increased, church help has been minimal, according to interviews with more than 30 church leaders and city officials.
During the same period, several city churches have spent millions to build new church buildings.
"It takes an aggressive minister who wants to make real the spiritual," former city housing director Robert L. Moore said. "A lot of their members got displaced, and I don't know why they didn't respond."
"Some have gotten the 'edifice complex,' and they put their money into new church buildings," Moore added.
Father Geno Baroni, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said: "It is easier to get money out of church people to build churches than to get housing. They would rather give you money for a monument. A lot more education is needed."
He added: "Inside you are singing and praying about going to Heaven and you come outside and the neighborhood is going to hell."
Some church leaders believe that the criticism is unjustified. The Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington and a longtime housing activist, said: "Churches don't have that kind of money. I guess that's the myth about churches. They don't have large amounts of cash to put into buildings."
In the early 1970s, Gibson's church, First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1240 Sixth St. NW, took the unusual step of delaying plans for a new church building so that it could build 217 subsidized apartments instead.
"We had to make a decision and we needed housing," Gibson said. "That need was so critical we postponed our building program for the church," he said.
The Rev. Raymond R. Robinson, president of the Council of 100 Ministers, agreed with Gibson. "The church is not economically strong enough to do that build housing ," he said.
As to why churches don't pool their money, Robinson said: "That's a business project." He added: "The real mission of the church is not to raise money but to promote the kingdom of God." Churches could contribute to programs to increase jobs and housing, "but a lot of building ought not to be in the name directly of the churches."
Robinson said his church, Israel Baptist, 632 11th St. NE., has delayed its plans to build a new million-dollar church because of high interest rates.
In the early 1970s when McCullough first asked city officials to sell him urban renewal land as a site for 90 apartments, they almost refused because the bishop, who takes pride in being independent, wanted no government funds.
"The city didn't know what to do with him," Gibson said.
A spokesman for McCullough said the housing units, all close to the House of Prayer at 601 M St. NW were built because "the population of the church on the average is low- to moderate- ncome. We thought it was the best thing to do."
The apartment properties, managed by church members, appear immaculately kept. The church rents only to persons with jobs (no welfare recipients are allowed) but sets no income requirements and chooses tenants primarily on the basis of need.
Church managers visit the homes of prospective tenants, conduct interviews, review income levels, assess need and then select the tenants, the spokesman said.
Each apartment is inspected every three months. "If we feel a unit has been abused," the tenant is warned, and if there is no improvement the tenant is evicted, the spokesman said.
"You have to be sort of tight to maintain 250 units, but I think the tenants appreciate that kind of management," he added.
The new apartments rent for from $250 a month for a one-bedroom unit ($270 if it has a balcony) up to $425 for three bedrooms. About one-third are rented to church members, the spokesman said.
The church has existed for 59 years, and "the bishop is generous in pooling the resources of the people and doing something positive with the finances. When it is time to come up with the money, he has it," the spokesman said.
While McCullough was paying for new housing with cash, some religious neighbors sought federal housing funds shortly after the 1968 riots. Many churches along Seventh Street NW led the rebuilding of that devastated corridor by sponsoring the construction of more than 1,000 units of federally subsidized apartments.
Those federally subsidized buildings have suffered through a series of management and financial problems resulting largely from the dramatic increase in fuel bills and the failure of federal subsidies to keep pace, but today the buildings are clean and well-kept.
Along upper 14th Street NW, a handful of churches also sponsored new housing in that riot-devastated corridor: The All Souls' Unitarian Church at 16th and Harvard streets rebuilt much of that corridor when it developed 408 apartments on several parcels. St. Stephen & The Incarnation Episcopal Church tore down its parish house at 16th and Meridian streets NW to build 72 subsidized apartments called Urban Village.
In Northeast Washington, along H Street, the third riot corridor, the Northeast Ministries Group joined with a private developer to build 356 apartments at three sites.
Also in the early and mid-1970s, three churches sponsored 724 subsidized apartments along North Capitol Street, between H Street and New York Avenue, a city-designated urban renewal area.
Bible Way Church built Golden Rule apartments, with 224 units; Mount Airy Baptist Church built Tyler House, a 301-unit high-rise that the church has since sold to private owners; and the Catholic Archdiocese sponsored Sursum Corda, with 199 apartments.
Only three subsidized buildings were built by churches in other parts of the city and all were for elderly tenants, according to the persons interviewed: St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom built a 140-unit apartment building behind its church; the Episcopal Archdiocese built Friendship Terrace, 200 units at 4201 Butterworth Place NW; and Second New St. Paul Baptist Church built 100 units at 1400 Franklin St. NE.
When Church of Our Saviour at 16th and Irving streets NW decided to help with housing nine years ago, it organized Jubilee Housing, which bought six buildings in Adams-Morgan. The buildings house 213 low- and moderate-income families.
The projects were completed without federal or city funds, said Terry Flood, the first manager of Jubilee Housing. Jubilee bought the buildings by using contributions and grants from foundations and by assuming mortgages, she said. "It is very demanding and stretching commitment," she added.
In the late 1970s, the housing crisis affected inner city low-income tenants, who were forced from their homes because their neighborhoods had became fashionable addresses for the black and white middle class.
Hundreds of low-income tenants, many of them church members, were displaced from Adams-Morgan, Columbia Heights and Shaw as their rented apartments and homes were bought up and renovated into high-priced condominiums or houses selling for six figures.
Since 1978 four church-related groups have sprung up that are dedicated to organizing tenants and informing them of their rights under a series of anti-tenant displacement laws passed by the City Council.
That legislation gave tenants the first right to buy their homes or apartment buildings when the buildings were put up for sale. But most tenants knew little about how to organize and even less about how to arrange to buy buildings with price tags sometimes topping $1 million.
Nine churches in Southwest organized Muscle Inc., which helped a group of low-income tenants in the neighborhood become the first in the city to fight displacement by buying their apartment buildings. The organization also helped provide for a lawyer, an architect and an engineer to help the tenants buy their apartments and to gain federal subsidy dollars.
No District churches offered prospective home buyers financial assistance, leaving the city and federal governments as the sole source of money for low-income tenant groups.
Muscle no longer receives money from its original church sponsors because it has a contract with the city to help tenants organize and arrange financing, Muscle Executive Director Alice Vetter said.
The other church-sponsored groups include Washington Inner City Self Help, a small group established by 40 central-city churches; the Southern Columbia Heights Tenants Union, organized by a small ecumenical religious community known as the Sojourner's Fellowship; and the Southeast Vicariate, sponsored largely by 11 Catholic churches located east of the Anacostia River.
According to the persons interviewed, only two city churches have set up housing counseling services to advise tenants faced with illegal evictions: St. Augustine at 15th and V streets NW and Peace Lutheran at 4929 Ames Place NE.
Peace Lutheran also has bought, repaired and sold 43 houses to low- and moderate-income families. It now is helping families faced with evictions.
Mary Lou Tietze, head of the counseling program, said the church recently paid $1,400 to save from foreclosure the home of a woman whose payments were delinquent. The woman is repaying the church, she said.
" District churches have not stayed alert to the realities of what it takes to take care of their people," said Timothy Jenkins, who owns a management consulting firm and is active in housing.
"Churches represent the largest aggregate of capital that black people control," Jenkins added "and, unfortunately, there is no national effort to consolidate that economic power--and housing is just part of that oversight."