Rosa Hatfield's light brown eyes dance somewhere between determination and wistfulness when she remembers 1974.
"I thought I would be a welfare mother for the rest of my life," she said and opened her heavy eyelids, "and all I wanted was a place where me and my girls could live and be left alone."
Finding affordable housing was difficult for the then-22-year-old single mother, but she found a place for herself and her three toddlers in a dilapidated Adams-Morgan apartment building that was being purchased by a group that called itself Jubilee Housing Inc. Though the group promised to renovate the building and not force anyone to leave, Hatfield was unconvinced.
Thirteen years later, Jubilee, at 1750 Columbia Rd. NW, still has not broken its promise and remains committed to housing the poor. Hatfield can tell you all about it because she has become the organization's management-tenant liaison.
"Poor people just could not live in Adams-Morgan without Jubilee," Hatfield said firmly.
In 1973, through the concerns of members of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour and urban developer James Rouse, Jubilee Housing was founded. Rouse, who had been a regular visitor to discussion groups at the church's Potter's House Cafe, was skeptical about rehabilitating the buildings, but when church members made a $10,000 deposit on two rundown buildings in Adams-Morgan, he agreed to pay up front for the buildings under a lease-back agreement; once the church members had the money, they would buy back the buildings.
Church members, tenants and corporate construction volunteers then began the arduous task of correcting 940 building code violations at the Ritz, at 1631 Euclid St. NW, and the Mozart, at 1630 Fuller St. NW. More than 60,000 work-hours later, in 1976, the first buildings of the project were brought up to the District's Housing Code standards. In the years that followed, Rouse, whose construction laurels include Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the planned community of Columbia, found Jubilee so successful that he created the Enterprise Foundation in 1981, an intermediary group that pairs organizations that have financial and technical resources with low-income housing providers.
Today Jubilee, with a full-time staff of 14, owns nine buildings with 316 units in the Adams-Morgan area that are secure and clean, though walls are veined with peeling paint and occasionally a stench may waft through the air. It has evolved into an organization that concentrates on housing but embraces nearly every aspect of tenant life. Among its satellite groups are a job placement and training program, an infirmary, a Montessori school, a building for the elderly and an emergency financial assistance program available to tenants for reasons other than rent.
In addition to this holistic dimension, Jubilee keeps rents low; $153 for an efficiency, $187 for a one-bedroom unit and $217 for a two-bedroom unit. Jubilee is able to keep rents low because rather than losing money in real estate commissions, legal fees and construction costs, it buys buildings at less than market value by buying them occupied. Jubilee thus avoids the cost of moving the tenants and queries companies for financial and technical donations. Currently, 20 organizations make up the Jubilee Support Foundation, including the George Hyman Construction Co., the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering and accountants Peat, Mawrick, Mitchell & Co.
"The place is affordable enough that it gives me the chance to do other things besides work all the time," quipped a tenant who did not want to be identified.
"Jubilee is very effective and innovative, especially in terms of their low-cost approach to rehabilitation," said Robert Pohlman, acting director of the D.C. Office of Housing and Community Development. "They focus on the buildings and bring human resources and money. Other groups do so as well, but Jubilee has been very successful in terms of attracting skilled people to volunteer positions and drawing resources for their holistic approach. Housing becomes a focus to remedy, but then they take the opportunity to address other problems."
D.C. Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), whose jurisdiction includes Adams-Morgan has worked with Jubilee throughout his term.
"Jubilee has a unique relationship with a charitable developer, Rouse, and they have built up community confidence. I think that they do a good job, especially in terms of garnering private funds," Smith said.
This year, Jubilee became a partner in the District's first housing linkage project with the John Akridge Co. The developer sought permission from the District government to build a downtown office of higher density than zoning permitted and in exchange offered to make a contribution to low-income housing. Jubilee was chosen, and a second housing partner, Manna Inc., was introduced because it offers housing closer to the Akridge building site. Ultimately, Jubilee and Manna expect to receive $750,000 each in the arrangement.
Jubilee Vice President Robert Boulter is excited with the way things are going. Behind the table he sits at in Jubilee's simple office are rows of books with such titles as "The Wayward Welfare State," "A Home for the Heart" and "The New English Bible." He stops for a moment and looks hard at his hands as he tries to explain why he works for the organization.
"I was very concerned with the needs of the poor, so I wanted to bring together my professional life with my personal convictions," he said. "Not everyone is cut out to be in the trenches, but I frankly would not be satisfied to be at a greater distance. I want to be in the direct contact with the people this is all for."
A tenant of the Ritz looks suspicious and pulls her T-shirt hard. She is unfamiliar with such things as housing linkage and cooperatives and does not seem interested in the details of low-income housing. Her face brightens as she looks around her humble one-bedroom apartment.
"God willing, I'll be comfortable here and He'll let me stay. That's all I really care about and want, you know. The first thing I do is thank Him that I am here. The second thing I do is thank Jubilee."