By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Thomas Ray couldn’t believe the change.
Ray, a retired truck driver, was one of the first residents to move into St. Joseph’s Place, a 47-unit federally subsidized apartment development for the elderly, spearheaded by Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
It was homecoming for Ray. He grew up in the notorious Wayne Miner high-rise housing projects which once sat on the very site of St. Joseph’s Place.
“It was pretty rough, crime-ridden,” he said on Aug. 16, the day Bishop Robert W. Finn joined local and federal officials in blessing and dedicated the latest Catholic Charities’ effort to provide quality housing for the elderly and disabled.
“It was like living in a penitentiary,” Ray said.
But now? “This is beautiful. And quiet,” he said. “It’s like being in heaven.”
St. Joseph’s Place is the newest of nine rent-subsidized apartment buildings that Catholic Charties has built in partnership with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and manages in partnership with the YARCO Corp. Seven of the buildings are in Kansas City, one is in Cameron and one is in Warrensburg.
It is what the Catholic Church is all about, Charities’ CEO Mike Halterman told the crowd gathered at 10th Street and Euclid Ave., for the dedication of St. Joseph’s Place.
“About half of the people who live in our apartments would be homeless if it weren’t for facilities like this,” Halterman said. “That is why we do it, and have done it for years with YARCO, our partners. This is the Catholic Church living out our mandate to serve the poor.”
The program to provide rent-subsidized housing for low-income elderly dates to the 1960s and former President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs.
Under the program, qualified elderly are charged 30 percent of their monthly incomes for rent, with the federal agency subsidizing the remainder under market rates.
Ray, and other early residents who worked for years at jobs that made none of them rich, said they couldn’t imagine where they would be if not for St. Joseph’s Place.
“Beautiful, lovely, quiet,” said Bonnie Greene, who recently retired as a laundry worker.
“I couldn’t afford the apartment I had in Raytown any more when I retired,” she said. “I am truly blessed that I got my apartment here. I’ve come a long way and worked hard to get here.”
Alonzo William, who uses a wheelchair, also used superlatives in describing his new home.
“It’s wonderful, and this is a good neighborhood,” he said. “We’re going to get good people in here and keep it that way.”
Wunetta Smith, a retired cook and day care worker, said she was recently widowed and could no longer afford the house she and her late husband were renting.
“This is a lot smaller than my house,” she said of her one-bedroom apartment. “But I got used to it, and I love it.”
Terri Porter, regional director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said St. Joseph’s Place is an example of how public and private partnerships can impact lives.
“Today, I get to see how the department’s funds can change communities and change lives,” she said.
“Without the vision and continued hard work of all the partners, our money would mean nothing,” Porter said.
Edwin Lowndes of the Kansas City Public Housing Authority that approved a 99-year lease on the land on which St. Joseph’s Place is located, also marveled at the transformation in the neighborhood.
“St. Joseph’s Place brings another piece of liveability to this community,” he said. “Here, we have a microcosm of what could happen in Kansas City. This is one more opportunity to pool our resources into a development that will become a vital part of Kansas City.”
Bishop Finn, as he officially blessed the apartment complex, told the crowd that it is fitting that it should bear the name of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus on earth.
“St. Joseph went to great pains to make sure that Jesus and Mary were provided for,” Bishop Finn said. “We are constantly asking St. Joseph for his help in accomplishing many tasks. We know that he has a direct line to our Lord, and he will bring many blessings upon this place.”
But the real blessings, the bishop said, will be the people who live and work at St. Joseph’s Place.
“This will be home to many people,” he said. “They will be truly blessed because of the people who live and work here.”