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Southeast Church Builds High Quality, Affordable Housing for Seniors

D. R. Barnes | 3/15/2013, 7:25 p.m.

Seniors in Southeast now have more choices when it comes to affordable places to live. A new senior housing development recently opened and offers residents an array of modern amenities that include an Internet cafe, health and fitness center, library and on-site parking.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Roundtree Residences, located at 2515 Alabama Ave., S.E., was held Sunday, March 10, culminating a development project spearheaded by Vision of Victory Community Development Corporation (VOV) more than three years ago.

"It's been hard and tough sometimes," Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry told a crowd of about 100 who gathered outside the new complex to witness the ribbon cutting, and tour the state-of-the-art building. "But, when I come here to this development, it makes it all worthwhile."

Established by Allen Chapel AME Church, one of the oldest churches located in Ward 8, VOV and its partners now provide safe and affordable housing for seniors who live east of the Anacostia River. And, the development is a mere stone's throw away from the church in the Naylor Gardens neighborhood.

The development, named in honor of Dovey Roundtree, an attorney and a longtime member of Allen Chapel AME Church, will forever remain a testament to her ingenuity and brilliance during a precarious time in history. Roundtree, 99, won the 1955 landmark civil rights case Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company which ended racial segregation in interstate bus travel. A graduate of Howard University's Law School, she currently resides in North Carolina.

Katie McCabe, who co-authored Roundtree's biography, Justice Older than Law, said the renowned civil rights lawyer, "had two love affairs in this town. One was with the law, which earned her the moniker, 'The Doveinator.' When she moved into a small apartment around the corner on Ainger Place in the 1950s and a neighbor invited her to attend Allen, her second love became her church and the rest is history."

"Dovey lived her life just giving to others," said the Rev. Michael E. Bell, pastor of Allen Chapel AME. "The story is she paid many bills of the AME churches without asking for a dime. We bless God for Rev. Dovey Roundtree."

Perseverance made the difference.

The $16 million project, led by VOV's Executive Director LaRuby May, took only 15 months to complete. The apartment building has 80-one bedroom units and 11 two-bedroom units. It's 80 percent affordable for seniors whose incomes are 60 percent of average medium income, and 20 percent affordable for seniors at 50 percent of the average medium income.

"We had more obstacles than anyone can imagine getting this project through," May told members of the congregation following the Sunday morning service, "but we did it."

VOV's partners and supporters in the development of the land, which was donated by Allen Chapel at market value, included Bank of America, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the Neighborhood Investment Fund, Enterprise Community Partners, the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, PNC Bank, Freddie Mac and Merrill Lynch. Barry's office shepherded the tax exemption legislation needed to jump start the project.

The project also used several D.C. Certified Business Enterprises (CBEs). Area residents also benefited from the projects.

The day couldn't have been more perfect for hundreds of Allen Chapel members who basked in the warm sun as city officials and development partners congratulated one another for completing phase one of the project. Facing the three-story building with bay windows and balconies on each unit, they applauded their efforts in bringing more affordable housing to Southeast.

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the Committee on Economic Development, told the congregation, before marching with the group from the church to the development site, that, "It is our [D.C. Council] responsibility to build D.C., not just downtown but in every neighborhood."

Bowser complimented Roundtree.

"I couldn't be more honored to stand here today to honor a trailblazing woman. We don't have many locations named after a woman [in D.C.], so when we have an opportunity to put a woman's name up on a building, it tells a little girl and a young developer that Allen AME church is committed to this neighborhood and to strong black women."