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May 19, 2005
Home Sweet Home

by Bill Egbert
As a drug addict, Elizabeth Betts was set on fire as she slept in a hallway, and lost 25 teeth to a 2-by-4 in the face, but yesterday - eight years clean - she flashed a bright smile as she got an apartment of her own for the first time in her life.

Betts, 46, accepted the key to her new home at a ceremony celebrating the completion of Stadium Court, a 60-unit affordable-housing complex owned and operated by the Doe Fund, a 20-year-old nonprofit that helps homeless New Yorkers find work and housing.

"I don't have to go though people's garbage cans anymore to find clothes to wear," Betts said in a tearful speech. "I can go right upstairs and look in my own closet."

Stadium Court, just north of Yankee Stadium at 1085 Gerard Ave., is made up of one- and two-bedroom townhomes constructed for the Doe Fund by Leewood Real Estate from modular housing units manufactured at a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

It's the second foray into the affordable housing market for the Doe Fund, which is best known for providing work for destitute New Yorkers cleaning streets and other entry-level jobs. In 2000, the Doe Fund built the city's first new single-room-occupancy building in 50 years in East Harlem.

"This is the next step," said Doe Fund founder George McDonald. "It's a place for families."

Apartments at Stadium Court rent for $660 to $790 per month to families earning $26,400 to $31,600 a year. The spacious townhouses have full kitchens and even utility closets large enough for washers and dryers.

"Creating this kind of affordable housing is the realization of a longtime dream of mine," McDonald said, himself choked up by Betts' moving story.

The Doe Fund financed the $9.5 million complex through tax credits provided by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

The first tenants, Alonzo and Leeannie Williams, moved in on Christmas Eve, leaving behind the cramped, one-room Brooklyn apartment where they had to share a bathroom and kitchen with other tenants.

"Christmas dinner here," said Leeannie, 70. "I cooked it myself, the old-fashioned way - and it was delicious. It was a big Christmas present."

But for Betts, it was the dishwasher that provided the biggest thrill about her new home. She said that as a little girl, she had dreamed of having one someday, but that dream, like most of her others, had vanished into a puff of smoke from a crack pipe - until she heard that she was on the list for an apartment in Stadium Court.

"When I came to look at it," Betts said with an embarrassed smile, "I didn't even have a key yet - but I had a box of Cascade in my purse."

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