Life had grown hard for Doris Williams. Her home was crumbling. The $200 she received monthly from Social Security was not enough to fix up the 100-year-old property. After surgery to replace both knees, she no longer could climb the stairs to get to the bathroom to take a shower.
"I couldn't get up the steps. We were on a fixed income. It was really beginning to get me down," said the 69-year-old Lanham resident. Then she and her husband learned from a county social worker about a new assisted-living facility for senior citizens that was opening up in Hyattsville. And in August, she moved in.
Last week, the building was dedicated by one of its biggest boosters, Cardinal James A. Hickey of the Archdiocese of Washington.
As Williams and other seniors and a host of state and local officials looked on last Friday, Hickey blessed the new facility. "This is a blessing. Oh, God, yes," Williams said as she and the seniors marched into Avondale Park Apartments behind Hickey. The 88-unit complex is part of a far-reaching effort by the Catholic Church to provide affordable housing for senior citizens and the disabled. Tenants began moving in a few weeks ago.
Avondale Park, a $6.4 million project, is part of a 30-acre campus owned by the Catholic Church that has several facilities, including a nursing home, a maternity home and a home for the disabled. Most of the money for Avondale Park came from federal, state and private-industry grants. The complex has been built over the last five years by Victory Housing, a nonprofit arm of the Catholic Church that since 1979 has built similar facilities in the District and in four other Maryland counties: Montgomery, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's. People of all faiths are welcome at the facilities.
Started as a grass-roots attempt to provide more senior housing in three Washington area parishes, Victory Housing has grown into an award-winning development group that has seven assisted-living facilities and two apartment communities for low-income residents. The group has been recognized by the White House, the state and nonprofit agencies for developing affordable housing.
Catholic church leaders, county and state officials and many senior citizens were on hand Friday as Hickey cut the ribbon and led a gleeful procession into the complex.
"Thanks be to God that we have this wonderful day," Hickey said as the sun shone on the outdoor ceremony. "It is my prayer that this be a safe and happy home for the elderly. I especially pray that there be a happy relationship with the St. Ann's family."
St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home is next door to the new apartment complex. Having senior citizens living near the single mothers will provide a great chance for the 110 residents at her home to get some extra love, said St. Ann's administrator Sister Josephine.
"It is great to have an intergenerational connection between Avondale Apartments and St. Ann's," she said. "[The two groups] will contribute to each other. Our residents will have a captive audience for their shows."
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, Donna F. Crocker, deputy chief administrative officer for Human Services in Prince George's County, told those gathered that quality housing for senior citizens is a growing need.
"Older Americans are the fastest-growing segment of the population in the county," Crocker said, adding that 10 percent of the county's 780,000 residents are 65 years old or older "and in the next 10 years, that number is expected to double."
Jalal Green, director of the Prince George's County Department of Housing and Community Development, said that the county has enough housing for seniors. But in the next several years, the challenge will be to build higher quality housing for seniors to attract a more affluent population.
Green said that in the last 15 years, about 4,000 units have been built for seniors in need of affordable housing and that several other facilities have been built for those able to pay market rates. "In the future, there will be a need for quality and affordable housing."
Avondale Park was built with a $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, $175,000 in grants from the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust and a $50,000 grant from Fannie Mae. Residents' monthly rent is based on income.
The Rev. Joseph R. Hacala, special assistant for Community and Interfaith Outreach for HUD, said that the apartment complex is part of a new partnership between the federal government and the faith community to meet the needs of "those most in need in our society."
The complex is equipped with a health clinic, an exercise facility, a beauty parlor and even a computer room where seniors are being taught to access the Internet.
"This is a blessing. This is a little home," Margie Mills, 65, said as she and Elizabeth Holmes, 76, sat on a bench outside the residence. "It is so quiet out here, you can't even hear the birds." As the women talked, Ann Balsinger ran up to Hickey and asked when his birthday is, since she and Hickey will both turn 79 in October.
As the women nibbled on fruit and cookies, Hickey smiled and slipped out. But just before he left, he paused and reflected on his childhood in an interview.
"When I think about seniors, I think about my own mom and dad, I think about my grandmother living with us and how we all were able to get together," Hickey said. "I hope that is what happens here, that they share. The people here are part of a new family."