Nonprofit Elpis repays loan at 11th hour


Just hours before a scheduled foreclosure sale Thursday, the Charleston nonprofit group Elpis paid off a loan to the city Housing Authority that had fallen into arrears, allowing the group to keep possession of its property at 23 Aiken St.

The Housing Authority had loaned $45,000 to Elpis in 2005 so it could create affordable housing units at the site, and feared that it would instead end up owning the property and a dilapidated house there, which the city has declared a safety threat.

On Wednesday, Elpis founder the Rev. Dallas Wilson gave no indication that the group planned to pay off the loan, which the Housing Authority had extended several times. Instead, Wilson said the poor economy and difficulty raising money and securing grants were to blame for the loan default, as well as a prior mortgage default on a different property.

"Just not being able to raise funds is what it's all about," he said.

Housing Authority Director Don Cameron said the authority didn't get any details from Elpis on Thursday, just a check and a request to call off the foreclosure sale, which the authority did.

"Reverend Wilson walked into our attorney's office this morning and handed him a check to pay off the debt on Aiken Street," Cameron said.

"We're not going to look a gift horse in the mouth," he said. "We're very appreciative of that and wish the ministry, Elpis, nothing but the best."

With interest, the debt amounted to nearly $56,000. The 23 Aiken St. property had already been through a preliminary foreclosure auction, where the Housing Authority was the only bidder, and was scheduled to be sold at 11 a.m.

Wilson, reached by telephone, was unwilling to discuss the situation.

According to the S.C. Secretary of State's office, Elpis and four other charitable groups registered by Wilson have been suspended for failure to pay fines, which stemmed from a failure to file financial reports.

When a charity is suspended by the Secretary of State, it can't legally solicit donations.

Renee Daggerhart, media relations director for the Secretary of State's office, said the office's understanding is that the nonprofit groups had a change in administrators and that

Wilson may have been unaware of the unpaid fines, amounting to more than $6,000.

"It seems they are making a good-faith effort to clear this up," she said. "They are setting up a payment plan with us."

The four other suspended nonprofits registered by Wilson are the Charleston Innercity Midnight Basketball Association, GrantsNet, Exousia-Dunamis and RESTORE.

Wilson is also the registering agent for the nonprofit groups The JDW Network, Agape Ministries of Charleston, African American Family Center for Biblical Dialogue and PASTORS. Those organizations are in good standing as South Carolina charities, Daggerhart said.

Cameron said the Housing Authority is confident that the money loaned to Elpis was appropriately spent, because the authority reviewed invoices presented by Elpis before paying bills for items such as architectural services. The house at 23 Aiken St., however, is a burned shell supported by braces to keep it from falling down.

Elpis has successfully created other low-income housing, including apartments at 27 Aiken, which is next door to 23 Aiken. The group acquired 27 Aiken from the city of Charleston in the 1990s.

Wilson's home sits on the other side of 23 Aiken, and just a few blocks from an East Bay Street mansion that the group had been restoring as a community center until it went into foreclosure earlier this year.

The city had given The Josiah Smith Tennent house, at East Bay and Line streets, to Elpis back when the house was just a vacant shell, and the organization received around $1 million in government funds to restore the property.

When Elpis defaulted on its mortgage on the property this year, the city bought the now-restored mansion for $1.4 million as it was headed for foreclosure auction. The city hopes to pursue the intended uses of the property, offering services such as day care and a dental clinic.

Like the Housing Authority, city officials have said they don't fault Elpis for the foreclosure. And like Elpis, the city has blamed the nonprofit's financial problems on difficulty securing grants.