Though the apartment complex for low-income seniors in Woodlawn is being built by Catholic Charities and named after a Korean church, preference will not be given to church members.
That's what officials with the religious nonprofit organization told citizens who raised concerns about who will live at the 74-unit complex at Security Boulevard and Mount Vernon Drive, questions that prompted the emergency community meeting Wednesday night.
"I want to make sure the community doesn't think it's a Korean-only building," Rosemary Horstman, director of property management for Catholic Charities, told Woodlawn community leaders.
The project is named Catholic Charities at Holy Korean Martyrs Senior Housing because the nearby parish sold the property for the apartment building to the charity, Horstman said.
"It's our practice when a church sells or donates land, the building is named for that organization," she said.
Horstman said it's not unusual for residents to question the criteria used in choosing who will live at its properties.
"The No. 1 question is: 'Do I have to be Catholic to live there?'" Horstman said, adding that the organization doesn't give preference to those of a certain religion or race. Catholic Charities operates 17 senior housing developments and plans to open another next year in Abingdon.
Van Ross, president of the Woodlawn Community Education, Development and Association, called the meeting after area residents expressed fears about preference being given to Korean church members, despite that the complex is part of a federal Housing and Urban Development program for low-income seniors.
"We just want to make sure it is a fair and equitable process," Ross said.
The umbrella community organization gave its support to the project in a letter to federal housing authorities after touring other Catholic Charities senior-housing complexes.
"The housing is excellent," Ross said. "I'd like to live there."
But Ross said there has been lingering apprehension about the application process.
"The history of this community is that we're often promised things that don't come to pass," she said.
The charity had planned to open the building in December. But construction is ahead of schedule, and officials say they expect to open Oct. 1. Applications probably will be mailed by the end of July.
About 750 people have requested information about the 74 one-bedroom apartments, Horstman said.
"That is tremendous," she said. "What that tells me is that there is a need for affordable senior housing in this community."
It also means that some applications likely will be turned down, officials and community leaders said, making it even more important that seniors mail in applications quickly.
The 540-square-foot apartments are for people 62 and older with an income of no more than $25,550 for one person or $29,100 for two, after adjustments for medical expenses.
Applicants also must pass a background check, Horstman said.
At the Wednesday meeting, residents spoke with state Sen. Delores G. Kelly about persistent problems with group homes in the area.
Kelly, a Baltimore Democrat, outlined some of the legislation that has passed in recent years - such as stricter licensing requirements and more audits - to help improve care for the children and teenagers living in the homes.
Randallstown and Woodlawn have the highest concentration of group homes in Maryland. Residents frequently complain about noise, vandalism, neglect and violence in the privately run homes.
Ross said the group plans to write a position paper, outlining other measures they would like to see implemented, for elected officials and candidates running for office.
"We all have the same issues," Ross said. "I choose to believe we can do something."