By C.N. Staff Writer
One southeast church has taken their message of affordable housing directly to the person whom they feel can best help their cause, the mayor. Brighter Day Ministries United Methodist Church has two campuses, one of which sits next door to 266 units of vacant apartments. The church’s A.P. Shaw campus, located at 2525-12th Place, SE sits adjacent to Parkway Overlook Apartments, which have been vacant since 2007.
Brighter Day partnered with Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church to hold their Service of Faith and Action for Affordable Housing this past Sunday, June 30th and invited Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who attended the service along with newly named District Superintendent, Dr. Joseph Daniels and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC8E Anthony Muhammad.
The two combined churches called on the mayor to reconsider the bidding of the Parkway Overlook Apartments, which have been vacant for over 6 years now. The apartments are currently up for auction, which both churches are attempting to stop and instead ask for a re-bid on the redevelopment of the property to make them affordable housing units.
“There are so many people here in Ward 8 without a place to stay and this property has been vacant for almost 6 years and we wonder why the homeless rate is high and the housing list is so long,” said Mike Walker, a member of Brighter Day Ministries Church.
According to the Request for Proposal (RFP), the property is a 266-apartment unit complex spread out in 20 buildings in southeast. It is in an area being redeveloped adjacent to the Henson Ridge HOPE VI project and near the Barry Farm New Community Initiative. Preference will be given to development plans that provide for rehabilitation of the units and keep the apartments affordable (defined as rents affordable to families earning 60% of the area median income) for a period lasting until at least fifteen years from the date of closing.
A Philadelphia-owned company, Penrose, won the bid to redevelop the property, but over the last year the project has halted and it is now back in the hands of the HFA. HFA now wants to auction off the building, but the church wants to see the redevelopment happen.
During the service members from the community and past residents of the apartments spoke about their experience at the apartments, recalling good times, but also concerned about the future of the apartments. Former tenant, Rufaro Jenkins, said she has mixed emotions about the property. “I lived here for over 15 years and I loved this place. I want to stop the auction and see the property go through the bidding process, not an auction.”
While Mayor Gray spoke to the congregation about his time growing up in an apartment and how he understands first-hand the plight
families feel when affordable housing isn’t available, he did not commit to taking the property out of the auction phase. Instead he said, “I never grew up in a house, my parents didn’t go to high school…so I understand the need for affordable housing,” he said. His administration has pledged to add $100 million dollars to the affordable housing cause, hoping to add 10,000 units by year 2020.
In response to the mayor, Pastor of Brighter Day Ministries, Ernest Lyles suggested that the first meeting should take place in the mayor’s office to resolve the issue. He further told the congregation that the service was the church’s call to action to declare the land for affordable housing purposes and used the service as a time for the two churches to pray over the land. “We have to pray over those things we need God’s help for and I believe our prayers will be answered,” Lyles said.
After the service the congregations sang and marched to the apartments, which sit adjacent to the church and prayed over the land. Pastor Dr. Charles A. Parker of Metropolitan Church said he and his members came because he knew this cause was important. “Churches around the city need to work together and people need housing they can afford. We are happy to be here today in support of this great cause,” he said.
Cynthia Eaglin, the Vice President of the tenant association at Parkway Overlook, said “I was here during the rough times and now I want to get back here during the development times. I believe that things are going to happen. We have a meeting in July.” Eaglin and her family lived in the apartments for 19 years.