Last week, five low and moderate income families on l2th Place NW were optimistic but struggling, selling pigs' feet and chicken dinners to raise deposit and down payment money to buy the dilapidated homes they had rented for years.
This week, after publicity about their plight, two savings and loan associations have offered help, the families have met with the chairman of the D.C. City Council and they have received so many offers of aid that they now are shopping around for the best deal.
"I just can't get over the joy of it all," said resident Maxine Ashford, who was so moved by the offers of help that at the end of a meeting Wednesday night she asked the audience to stand with her and sing, "We Shall Overcome."
"I don't know the words but I know I want to sing it," she said.
Later, she said, "I'm questioning everything until it's final but I still feel the joy."
A story in Monday's Washington Post detailed efforts of five 12th Place NW families to raise a total of $2,500 by today for deposit money and an additional $6,750 by April 10 for the down payment on their rundown homes. If the tenants failed to raise the money, their homes were to be sold to others.
Today is the first deadline, and things have changed.
With contributions from metropolitan area residents and the sale of dinners, the five families now have $3,145,46, according to Tony Jones of the Parent Child Center. The center,on 14th Street NW, has been accepting donations for the families.
Jones said the donations were from 50 different organizations and individuals, ranging from $1 to an $800 check from a prayer group.
And at a meeting at the center Wednesday night, the 12th Place tenants heard Bathrus Williams, representing Zion Baptist Enterprises, an organization affilated with the Zion Baptist Church at 4850 Blagden Ave. NW, in the fashionable "Gold Coast" neighborhood off Upper 16th Street promise them both deposit and down payment money.
A $500 check from the church was delivered yesterday, and William promised, "If they require $20,000, they'llget it. It will be worked out. It could be more, it could be less. The people will get themoney that they need."
The down payment money, she told the families, is "change to Zion."
William B. Fitzgerald, president of the minority-controlled Independence Federal Savings and Loan, told the tenants at the Wednesday night meeting that after he read the stroy about their plight, "I was proud, angered, and moved. I felt that no matter what it takes, we will see to it that you have all the money you need to get into those five houses. Period."
It was the fact that the tenants were trying to help themselves that most impressed him, Fitzgerald told a reporter.
Fitzgerald, who said he lived on 12th Place NW as a child and used to shine shoes in the area, offered the tenants s 30-year mortage loans at 8 3/4 percent interest, nearly a full percentage point lower than normal rates, an official with the savings and loan said yesterday.
The firm also said it will waive early repayment penalty charges if the tenants get their loan packages refinanced through the D.C. government, which the are hoping to do.
"The publicity acted like a lightning rod, said Bob Stumberg, a lawyer with D.C. Project and legal adviser to the 12th Place tenants. D.C. Project is affiliated with Georgetown Law Center, he said.
"There now are many sources of funding, both public and private, for these families. There are hundreds of families affected by speculation in the city, and I hope something solid for all of them comes out of this," Stumberg added.
Stumberg and the 12th Place families noted that other tenants on the street have received eviction notices and may need assistance in trying to remain in their homes.
Arthur VanBrakle, a recreation specialist who has rented on 12th Place for 39 years, said, "We're trying to keep doing this so we can help the others in the community and throughout the city."
Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan, which had offered assistance once tenants raise down payment money, still plans to visit the families and ask them to file loan applications, according to Jeff Morris, urban loan specialist for Perpetual.
"It doesn't matter which one of us (Perpetual or Independence) makes the loans, as long as it's someone from the savings and loan industry," Morris said.
The D.C. Development Corp. also has been offered the families deferred payment, payment loans for the down payment, but the director of the corporation could not be reached for comment yesterday. The families said they also have been told by D.C. housing officials that they probably will qualify for low interest rehabilitation and refinacing loans.
Frank Smith, acting chairman of the dams Morgan Organization, had been helping the families get funding.
"I'm delighted." Smith said of the help that has been offered. "This is exactly what we wanted - a situation where poor people can walk into a bank and borrow money. The next thing we have to do is take advantage of this goodwill to get tax legislation passed which will freeze the value of property for tax purposes. This is an opportunity to try to get some legislation to help not only 12th Place, but other low income homeowners in the city."
Indeed, the theme of Wednesday's meeting seemed to be that what had happened to 12th Place tenants could happen to tenants in other parts of the city that are undergoing extensive rehabilitation.
The 12th Place situation "is indicative of a problem in this city, and it is an example of how we can begin to solve this problem," said Sterling Tucker, the City Council chairman and mayoral candidate who was at Wednesday's meeting. "We're only putting a finger in the dike here. Our concern has to be citywide."
On Wednesday, the D.C. Council Committee on Housing and Urban Development approved and sent to the full council the Housing and Finance Agency Act. The bill sets up a corporate agency with power to use private and public funds to finance development and rehabilitation of rental housing units and to expand homeownership opportunities for low and moderate income families.
For example, the bill says that rental projects that receive funds through the agency must initially provide at least 15 percent of their units for low income persons.
A low income family is defined in the bill, for a family of four, as earning 72 percent of the metropolitan area median income, which is estimated at $22,500.
With homeownership projects, the bill says that at least half the units must be set aside for sale to low or moderate income families.s.