This article was first published by Street Sense Media on March 20, 2019.
The Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist Congregation in Brightwood in Ward 4, has been holding their Sunday worship services in a nearby school for more than two years. It was a hardship they knowingly undertook when they decided to build affordable housing for the surrounding community.
At the physical center of the development is the refurbished Emory church. The building’s façade and original stained-glass window are most of what remains of the original structure. Rev. Joseph Daniels Jr., Emory’s lead pastor, said he believes the layout of the development, built around the church, is symbolic of the community and public work that his congregation has long strived for.
“The church was always the center of community life, and so for people to see that, not only visually but to be able to experience it in real time, lets people know, particularly those who have gotten frustrated with faith communities, that there is hope, that there are people who get it and people who want to improve people’s lives,” Daniels said.
The newly refurbished sanctuary was standing-room only on March 13 as city officials and church leaders gathered to celebrate the completion of the new Beacon Center complex. The development features 99 affordable housing units, community spaces, and commercial space alongside the renovated church. Two-thirds of the units had already been filled.
Located at 6100 Georgia Avenue NW in Ward 4, the Beacon contains one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and studio apartments. They are all set aside for people earning less than 60% of the area median income, a number set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as the middle income for the Washington region that is used to determine eligibility for housing assistance programs. Only the waitlist for one-bedroom apartments remained open on the Beacon’s website when Street Sense went to press.
The housing units are particularly needed for “veterans, seniors, and individuals transitioning from homelessness,” according to a city press release. Rents range from $1,231 per month for a studio to $1,828 for a three-bedroom unit. Eighteen of the 99 units will provide permanent supportive housing to families making less than 30% of the AMI.
The first person to move into a Beacon apartment in January, Rosa Lee, opened her apartment to church officials for a tour after the ribbon cutting. “The new apartment is absolutely beautiful,” Lee said. “I really love it, I really do, and that’s why I was so happy to show it off.”
Part of what she loves is the ability to live independently at age 71 in a safe and affordable community. “I can continue to have guests over on Sundays like I did at my previous apartment,” Lee said. “I just feel right at home.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who served as Ward 4 councilmember before being elected mayor, spoke at the ceremony. The mayor reminded attendees of the commitment she made in January to create 36,000 new affordable housing units by 2025. The Beacon broke ground on October 7, 2016, and received $17.2 million from the DC Department of Housing and Community Development’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), $21.6 million in bonds from the DC Housing Authority and $16 million from low-income housing tax credits.
Three days prior, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute released a report recommending the city double the size of the HPTF, to $200 million, to keep up with growing construction costs. The HPTF was allocated $100 million in fiscal year 2018 — Bowser’s annual proposal since taking office and the highest contribution proposed by any administration to date.
Rob Fossi of The Community Builders, the nonprofit real estate developer that built the Beacon Center, credited Daniels with his determination to make the project happen. “There is no such thing as an insurmountable obstacle between the pastor and completing a righteous mission,” Fossi said. “Successes like this change lives, and you cannot put a price on that.”
Within the residential spaces at the new complex are a number of community rooms and a fitness center. A basketball court was also built under the church. The Beacon Center will also serve as home to the church’s mission arm, Emory Beacon of Light, Inc., which provides services such as an immigration clinic, a neighborhood clean-up team, a food pantry, and weekend food programs for children who receive free or reduced lunch. There are also plans for new programs in the new space, including a health clinic and a culinary training program.
Housing programs are not new for Emory. Since 1994, Beacon of Light has provided transitional housing services to more than 150 families while they save for more permanent housing since the program began, according to its website. The organization has owned a three-story house to be used for housing programs since 2008.
“Today we don’t just celebrate the building of a structure,” said Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd at the ribbon-cutting. “We celebrate the building of a community.”