An Impossible Dream Came True
By: M. Callahan
Impossible dreams can come true when met with the determination of a charismatic and resolute Catholic priest, and a small group of indomitable men and women.
Early in the 1970’s, Rev. Monsignor Joseph L. Wingler of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria often heard from aging parishioners about their struggle to make ends meet. Adequate housing, appropriate for the elderly, was soaring in cost, when even available. Runaway inflation further complicated strained budgets, especially for those on fixed budgets. Many seniors also lacked transportation, isolating them from friends and rewarding activities.
Rev. Wingler decided that a building was needed with attractive and affordable apartments designed especially for the needs of seniors who sought to maintain their independence. He further wished for this building to provide a built-in social life with shared activities and entertainment.
At this same point in time, The Department of Housing and Urban Development was developing a federal housing program for senior citizens. Encouraged with the federal program, Rev. Wingler worked with his dedicated team, some of whom had experience with federally subsidized housing, and formed the St. Mary’s Housing Corporation.
After an exhaustive and time consuming search for an appropriate building site, land became available in Annandale. Martin and Lillie Webb generously donated some of their land across Columbia Pike from the Webb family homestead. Having recently lost his father, Mr. Webb was acutely aware of the many special needs of senior citizens.
Unfortunately, Rev. Winger and the St. Mary’s Housing Corporation would meet additional hurdles just after the rezoning was granted. With the impossible dream in site, then President Richard Nixon cut off all new HUD funds for senior citizen housing.
Not one to accept defeat, Rev. Wingler turned to a new initiative, similar to the HUD program, but sponsored by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Sadly, this program was designed for single dwellings. After much wrangling and research studies, many more meetings and hearings, there was a mutual recognition that a compelling need existed. Virginia finally came through with subsidized financing for apartment house, and Evergreen House would become a reality.
After two years of construction, Monsignor Wingler’s vision of an inviting and comfortable building was completed. Because of both state and federal subsidies, residents paid no more than twenty-five percent of their income for rent.
Today, Evergreen House features 246 unfurnished one bedroom apartments. Twenty-one of these units have been specifically designed to accommodate those residents who are disabled or confined to a wheelchair who require a handicap apartment for easy mobility in the unit.
Transportation is provided for scheduled trips in fifteen passenger buses that transport residents to grocery stores, malls and on various trips throughout the year. The property’s lovely grounds feature a picnic area, garden plots, benches and a gazebo, which offers a serene atmosphere for bird watching or simply relaxing.
Reproduction and distribution of this article or photographs requires the written permission of the author. (Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)Information for this article obtained from interviews and from “I Remember…” Evergreen House 1981,” editor Helena Pratt, Education office Mental Health Association in Alexandria, VA.
(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)