The world’s religions have a lot to say about how the poor should be treated. Most of the time, we ignore it. It just seems easier that way.
But sometimes those messages get through. How we treat the least among us says a lot about … us. Are the poor blessed? Shall the meek inherit the earth?
Someday, Welton and Kacie Bonner may inherit the earth. Today, they’re just happy to have a two-bedroom apartment in Columbia Heights. They moved in a year ago thanks to So Others Might Eat, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand.
The Bonners were among the first residents in Liz Donohue House, a recently refurbished 37-unit apartment building on Spring Place NW, near 16th Street.
The Bonners have never had a lot money. Kacie, 27, grew up in Papua New Guinea as the daughter of missionaries. Welton, 28, grew up in Prince George’s County then went to Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. Kacie was a student there, too. They married in 2015 and moved to Washington so Welton could preach.
“I knew I wanted to pastor a church in some kind of inner-city environment,” he said. “That had been a desire in my heart for some time.”
Their church — Greater Love Church — is in the Ward 7 neighborhood of Deanwood. The congregation is small — just 23 members — but tightly knit.
At first, the Bonners lived near the church in a one-bedroom apartment with their then-2-year-old son, Elijah, who slept in a closet under the stairs.
“We called him Harry Potter,” said Kacie.
Then they found out about So Others Might Eat. In 2005, SOME set itself a goal of providing 1,000 units of affordable housing in the District. The nonprofit is more than 80 percent of the way toward that mark.
Donohue House — named in honor of the late Liz Donohue, who with her husband, Tom, was a longtime SOME supporter — comprises two adjacent buildings that had been owned by another nonprofit. SOME bought them, gutted them and rehabbed them, adding usable space between them along with an elevator and such amenities as a community room and a playground. (They were a gift of the Washington Nationals.)
There are 74 children who live in Donohue House. For them, SOME provides after-school programming, including tutoring and homework help. For the adults, there are classes on money management. Without SOME, none of the families would be able to afford the neighborhood.
As is the practice with most affordable housing, Donohue House residents pay 30 percent of their incomes in rent, whatever that may be. The Bonners estimate they pay about a quarter of what a typical two-bedroom apartment in Columbia Heights would go for.
Said Welton: “They still charge us rent, but the rent is based on income, so you can actually save some money. You can actually start to build your life without being burdened.”
Capitalism can be an unforgiving machine. Why not just let the market sort things out?
“Any inclusive neighborhood is going to need to have a mix of incomes,” said Troy Swanda, SOME’s chief operating officer. “For our families and for their kids, being able to benefit from the neighborhood amenities that have sprung up in Columbia Heights is important.”
Kacie said someone once said to her, since Washington is so expensive, why don’t you just move out?
“But we love D.C.,” Kacie said. “And it is hard when it feels like the only option is to move out, when our son is in a really great school that we love and we want to be close to the people we love. We’re really grateful that SOME has done as much as they can so that lower-income people can stay.”
Elijah, now 3½ , was off at school when I visited the Bonners. But I met his little sister, Torah. She’s 6 months old, born in Washington. Hopefully she’ll grow up in Washington, too. She’ll come to know her neighborhood.
“There’s something special and humanizing about walking into a building and knowing your neighbor, knowing who’s on your left and right,” said Welton. “You know your neighbor in the street. They know you. There’s safety.”
Welton is pursuing a PhD in biblical studies. He’s had a lot of time to think about the poor, the widowed, the orphaned.
"Once you become a Christian, you’re called to be hospitable,” he said. “The beauty of hospitality is that it’s radical. There’s great healing that happens in hospitality.”