The Rev. Robert J. Williams Sr. has spent more than half his life leading the flocks at St. Paul Baptist Church in Capitol Heights. At 60, the soft-spoken minister says he feels blessed to have aged with his congregation.
It also has made him acutely aware of the housing needs of the church's older members. Williams can see for himself what a recent Prince George's County task force found: The county does not have nearly enough housing for a senior population that is expected to double within the next decade.
"People find it difficult to locate adequate senior housing that is affordable," Williams said. "It's just very, very obvious in this area. There's nothing really inside the Beltway."
In response, the church's own nonprofit development corporation has teamed with a local company to build a senior housing complex with affordable rents about a mile from St. Paul.
The St. Paul Community Development Corp. and Greenbelt-based Bozzuto & Associates are 50-50 partners in a venture to build a $12 million senior complex in Capitol Heights between Walker Mill Road and Central Avenue.
The four-story building, which has been approved by county planners, will have 150 apartment units, including 14 with two-bedrooms and 236 with one. Each will feature dishwashers and microwaves and wall-to-wall carpeting.
The complex also will offer a computer learning center, a fitness room, physicians offices, classrooms, a game room, a community room and an arts and crafts room. It will even have a concierge.
Construction is expected to begin this month and be completed in a year to 15 months. Monthly rents will be below-market for those who qualify and will be up to $584 for one bedroom and $705 for two.
"We're building it for ourselves and our people," said Carl S. Williams, the development corporation's executive director and Robert Williams's son. Church members will be the first to receive applications but will not get special preference.
Robert Williams has been pastor of St. Paul for 31 years. He has seen the church grow from a small congregation of 380 to more than 1,200 members. In 1993, St. Paul moved into a converted grocery store off Walker Mill Road. Rose-colored carpeting now covers the old supermarket floor, and the organ sits where the freezer aisle used to be.
St. Paul also runs a child development center on the property. In addition to the senior housing project, the church is building a business center for area residents and is renovating the face of the church.
Thomas S. Bozzuto, president of Bozzuto & Associates, said the senior complex is a unique effort in the county, pairing a nonprofit group with an established development company.
"It is a very community-driven venture," Bozzuto said.
The church also has joined with Washington area hospitals and schools to offer a "wellness center" at the apartment complex, which will cater to the apartment residents and to the community.
Carl Williams said the concept allows residents to interact with people outside the small apartment community.
"It makes it so your senior community doesn't feel isolated," he said.
Prince George's Community College will offer courses to seniors in the classrooms at the complex. The church also plans to offer services through the Department of Allied Health Services at Howard University, the Prince George's Division of Aging and Dimensions Healthcare System.
Carl Williams said that in all, six agencies will participate at the 3,500-square-foot wellness center.
"We stole the concept that they have been using for years in Montgomery County," Carl Williams said. "They have them all over their county. We wanted one here."
CAPTION: Carl S. Williams, executive director of the St. Paul Community Development Corp., is helping to plan St. Paul's senior housing complex.