Victory Housing – an agency of the Archdiocese of Washington that began in 1979, sparked by a priest’s concern for an elderly parishioner forced out of her apartment, and that has since expanded to provide affordable housing for senior citizens and families throughout the Washington area – celebrated its 40th anniversary on Oct. 23, with congratulations from local leaders and a commitment to continue that work.

Greeting guests at a reception in Washington marking that milestone for Victory Housing, Archbishop Wilton Gregory offered congratulations and expressed gratitude for the agency’s outreach and the partnerships that make it possible.

“It is really a gift to have so many people from such a wide and varied number of backgrounds to come together and collaborate on such an important endeavor, providing housing to people who need that little extra source of support and encouragement,” the archbishop said. “…Thank you for working so collaboratively and so successfully, in making these projects available, affordable and very, very attractive.”

Just before the gathering, Archbishop Gregory visited the nearby Victory Heights apartment building operated by Victory Housing in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Victory Heights provides 75 affordable apartment units for independent seniors.

Later in an interview, the archbishop spoke about Victory Housing’s outreach, saying, “It’s a godsend.” His visit to the Victory Heights apartments marked his first to a Victory Housing facility, and he noted how he had met “so many wonderful seniors who have a very comfortable, safe, secure home at a price they can afford.” And he added, “It’s in a great part of town, right across the street from a drugstore, restaurant and shopping centers.”

Archbishop Gregory said such outreach “is key, because it’s a sign of what Pope Francis wants us to do, to reach out to people on the margins, people who need the Church to be a source of security to them. The Church is where it should be, in the midst of the lives of our people.”

At the 40th anniversary reception, Leila Finucane, the president and chief executive officer for Victory Housing, Inc., also underscored the importance of government and business partnerships.

“We couldn’t do this work without everyone in this room. Victory Housing has spent four decades inspired by Catholic social teaching and serving as the nonprofit arm for the Archdiocese of Washington in providing affordable housing for seniors as well as families and in our assisted living work,” she said. “…This type of innovation is something that comes from working with great partners.”

Finucane also paid tribute to Victory Housing’s founding father, Msgr. Ralph Kuehner, who worked with parishioners in starting the agency that now operates 31 communities with 2,280 units throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the District of Columbia and the five surrounding Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s.

Victory Housing’s properties include 21 affordable apartment communities for independent seniors, six assisted living communities for the frail elderly, and four affordable apartment communities for low- and moderate-income families. Msgr. Kuehner, who died in 2017 at the age of 93, was a Scriptures teacher who later led the archdiocese’s social outreach efforts, and who also helped cofound the SOME soup kitchen and outreach to the poor, and Rosaria Communities, which develops housing for people with developmental differences.

Finucane also highlighted two new Victory Housing projects now being developed – Victory Haven, a 72-unit mixed income community for independent seniors in Damascus, Maryland, that is expected to open in the spring of 2020, and Spring Flats, 185 mixed-income units for seniors and families in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C., being redeveloped from the site of the former Hebrew Home for the Aged and the Paul Robeson School.

Also at the gathering, Aseem Nigam, the director of Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, expressed thanks to Victory Housing for partnering with the county to provide crucial affordable housing to residents there.

Nigam then read a proclamation from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council president Nancy Navarro congratulating Victory Housing on its 40th anniversary, noting that the agency operates 16 communities providing 1,204 units of affordable rental housing for seniors and families in neighborhoods throughout the county.

The proclamation noted, “Victory Housing’s properties are a shining example of what can be accomplished when all segments of the community work together.”

Another speaker at the gathering, Polly Donaldson, director of D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, also praised the work of Victory Housing, and noted the District’s partnership with the agency in developing the Spring Flats community, which she said addresses the urgent need for affordable housing in the District of Columbia. Donaldson noted that developing affordable housing in an equitable way for residents throughout the District is a key priority for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Donaldson then read a proclamation from Mayor Bowser that congratulated Victory Housing for providing affordable housing and related services for low- and moderate-income senior citizens and families in Washington, D.C., since the agency’s founding.

The mayor’s proclamation noted that Victory Housing’s properties are aimed at improving the lives of the city’s residents who need help and demonstrate “the good work that can be accomplished on behalf of a community in need.”

Also at the ceremony, Eugene Tillman spoke about a gift his family is making to honor his late wife Bonnie Thomson, who had worked for Victory Housing and helped develop the agency’s Parkfair Apartments for families and Victory Heights apartments for seniors in Washington, D.C.

Finucane praised Thomson for exemplifying the qualities of Victory Housing’s team – “compassion, accountability, respect for others, (and) striving for excellence.”

Tillman noted that his wife “built a career around social justice with a significant focus on affordable housing… She finished her career, not as a lawyer, but as a project manager, developer, zoning expert, interior decorator and more for Victory Housing.”

He noted that the Victory Heights apartments were the final project that Thomson worked on for Victory Housing before she retired. In her retirement, she enjoyed painting, and to honor her, her husband and two sons are making a donation for a public art space at the Spring Flats development.

“It’s a project that Bonnie would have loved in all of its dimensions, and it’s particularly fitting that we honor her by dedicating a public art space on the site in her memory,” Tillman said.

Before joining Victory Housing partners in cutting an anniversary cake, Finucane closed the ceremony by saying, “It’s 40 years, we want our partnerships and our efforts and contributions to keep going.”

Among those cutting a cake to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Victory Housing of the Archdiocese of Washington on Oct. 23 at Highland Park Apartments were, from left to right, Polly Donaldson, the director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development; Leila Finucane, the president and chief executive officer of Victory Housing; Eugene Tillman, the husband of the late Bonnie Thomson, who worked for Victory Housing and whose family is making a donation for public art at the agency’s Spring Flats project in her honor; Aseem Nigam, the director of  Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs; and John Falcicchio, the interim deputy mayor for planning and economic development for the District of Columbia, which is partnering with Victory Housing on developing Spring Flats. (Victory Housing photo/Rhea Whitney)