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Senior housing 'feels homelike'

The Baltimore Sun

Residents of Abingdon Senior Housing gathered in their community room for a blessing on their new home, a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, and a reception marking the completion of another residential project for Catholic Charities.

The $8.1 million four-story building, which is fully leased, includes 76 one-bedroom apartments for older adults, several community rooms and landscaped grounds.

Abingdon, at the intersection of Singer Road and St. Clair Drive, has been open for a year, allowing the 83 residents to become well acquainted.

"They don't hide in their apartments," said Debbie Seigle, Abingdon's manager. "Our residents mingle well."

Jenny Hayes, 79, represented the residents in the informal dedication ceremony last week. Standing before a stained-glass wall with officials and church leaders, Hayes snipped the ribbon and kept a large bow as a souvenir.

"It's official now," said Hayes, who moved to the building from Perryville last year. She encouraged the crowd to sample any of the three cakes she had baked for the reception that followed the ceremony.

Hayes, who often bakes for her neighbors and delivers their newspapers from the lobby, praised the warm and inviting atmosphere at her home. She and others offered tours to the guests, who included Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien and County Executive David R. Craig.

"There are open spaces and gathering places," said Lillian Cohen, who shares an apartment with her 88-year-old mother Ruth Cooper. "It feels homelike."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided most of the funding, along with contributions from the state and county.

"We feel strongly about keeping seniors in their community, close to their families in good, affordable housing," Craig said.

Most of the apartments are the standard HUD design with 540 square feet of living space. But because of the building's footprint, six units, including Cohen's, are slightly larger.

On the top floor, Annamay Baker, 80, formerly of Arbutus, has one of a few kitchen windows. Hers overlooks the residents' vegetable garden.

"I just love it!" she said. "I came here from the house where I had lived 46 years. The only apartment I ever had was the one when I was first married. Now I am near my daughters and I am downstairs every night playing cards."

The building is the 19th collaborative project in Maryland undertaken by Catholic Charities and HUD, which provides an operating subsidy that enables seniors on limited incomes to live in the facility. Many residents said proximity to children and grandchildren brought them to the area.

"My son wanted me closer so I moved here from North Carolina," said Rita S. Gray, 74. "I love my apartment. It's a place where I feel safe and comfortable. I have met so many nice people here."

Catholic Charities has dedicated its resources to providing seniors with housing that allows them to continue productive, self-sustaining lives, officials said. A similar project opened in Aberdeen about two years ago and a groundbreaking for the 20th senior complex is set for June in Odenton.

"This building is open to all, regardless of faith or background," said O'Brien, who earned a laugh when he said he had already put his name on the waiting list for an apartment.

"We can't just take care of our own church," he said. "We have to look around and see what needs to be done for everyone."

Abingdon, with its soft beige exterior and mature trees, fits well into an established neighborhood, said John G. Bravacos, HUD regional director.

"I oversee six states and this is one of the most beautiful spaces," he said.

Shopping centers, a post office and other amenities are located nearby and Harford Transit has added a stop near the front door.

In a letter to the group, Sen. Barbara Mikulski wrote, "Every senior here has contributed much. You have earned the right to safe, affordable housing."

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