After Wyatt Henderson, 59, left his construction job last year because he suffered from emphysema, he and his wife gave up their apartment, moved in with relatives and looked in vain for affordable housing.
Last November, while listening to a Saturday afternoon radio program, Laura Henderson, 60, heard about a new apartment building exclusively for the elderly or handicapped. She was determined to make this the couple's new address.
After an initial rejection, last December the Hendersons moved into a sunny one-bedroom apartment at 1222 T St. NW.
"We have never lived anywhere so comfortable and secure in our lives," said Laura Henderson, who does not work. "It's wonderful, just wonderful. We'd like to live here until we die."
The Hendersons are among 13 families who live at the Terrific Inn, once an abandoned and boarded-up two-story apartment building. Terrific Inc., a private nonprofit group organized to help low- and moderate-income families find housing, renovated it.
There are several nonprofit groups in the city trying to ease housing problems. But few undertake the burdens of becoming a landlord like Terrific Inc., which arranged for $500,000 in federally backed financing to buy and operate the building.
Terrific Inc.--Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crises--offers lower rents because of the federal subsidy. It also offers residents services ranging from legal consultation and referral to doctors to concerts and organized tours, said Louis Jones, the group's financial consultant.
Despite the "temporary" in the group's name, "people can live there as long as they like and can leave at any time they wish," said its president and founder, Debbie Tate. There is a waiting list of 200 families, she said.
Terrific Inn, a clean and well-kept 14-unit building with a vegetable garden, opened last year.
Tate, an Antioch College graduate who came to Washington in 1972 to work on her master's project on displaced children, founded her group in 1976. She said her professors had encouraged her to get some practical experience and she was intrigued by the idea of helping the poor and homeless.
"Terrific Inc. was set up with the sole aim of helping senior and handicapped citizens in society," she said. "It is entirely designed to serve people and effect social and environmental changes in communities. Our total interest is people."
The total annual budget for the corporation is about $6,000, all from donations, charities and grants, Tate said. The organization receives separate funds from the federal government to operate the apartment building and pay Jones, who also serves as a live-in manager.
The group spends 70 percent of its privately collected money for emergency food for families, books for neighborhood children and paint for renovating homes. The remaining 30 percent pays for such operations as transportation, payments for interns and wages for one staff member, Jones said.
Jones, the financial consultant who also is a seminary student, is that one staff member. Others on Tate's staff of 10 include a social worker, a minister, a lawyer and a businessman--all of them volunteers with other full-time jobs.
The group also operates a network of 150 volunteers who offer services, such as finding temporary housing and giving legal and insurance advice, Tate said.
Tate, who plans to receive a master's degree in divinity next year, said she was taught to help people as a teen-ager.
"My parents educated me to share with people and not to be selfish," she said. "I knew nothing else from childhood except helping people. I saw nothing else from my parents except helping people."
She also works as the religious-affairs director at WYCB radio, where she has a weekly two-hour community information program. It was through the program that Laura Henderson heard about the Terrific Inn. Shirley Higginbotham, 65, who lives near the Hendersons, also praised the building.
"I was scared of being mugged in the old neighborhood because of my age," she said. "I have no fear since I moved here. People at Terrific are nice and helpful, perhaps too much help. They are like my children. It seems like we're related."