Maxine Ashford ran down 12th Place NW yesterday yelling "I'm a homeowner, I'm a homeowner."
And indeed she was, along with four other families who went to settlement yesterday on their homes along the narrow, one-block street of multicolored brick rowhouses after a struggle of many months.
It was a day that Aquilla Lessesene said she thought never would come. "It's the greatest thing that ever happened to me," said Lesesene, who has eight of her 10 children living with her on 12th Place NW.
The settlement was like all settlements: lengthy and sometimes confusing. It was the final touch in a struggle by the five low and moderate-income families to avoid eviction from their homes on 12th Place.
And when the clacking adding machine had totaled the charges and quieted, the five families - Ashford, Lesesene, Sarah and Arthur VanBrakle, Mae Harris and Sadie Goddard - had realized their long-time dream.
They were homeowners.
The five families had begun their struggle to buy their rundown homes in the 2200 block more than two months ago. They, like other families on the street, had received eviction notices. Many of the rundown houses on the block had been sold, renovated, and resold to more affluent families.
These five families were different. Instead of moving out, they began to sell pigs' feet and chicken dinners to try to raise the $1,850 deposit and down payment money toward the $18,500 that Ruppert Real Estate Co., agents for the five individual owners of the homes, wanted for each house. The families were given 45 days to raise the money, as provided under the rent control bill.
Yesterday, the families officially became homeowners by signing papers at the office of Dolpin and Evans, a title insurance agency at 4308 Georgia Ave. NW.
They needed the help of many individuals and organizations to accomplish their goal. The tenants raised about $7,000 in donations from groups, individuals, benefits and food sales.
The Zion Baptist Church, at 4850 Blagden Ave. NW in the fashionable "Gold Coast" neighborhood, contributed almost $18,000 in down payment money to the families. Independence Federal Savings and Loan Association, a minority-controlled institution, provided mortgage financing for the tenants at 8 3/4 percent interest, at least half a percentage point lower than normal rates, and waived early repayment penalty charges.
The District government has promised to provide rehabilitation loans and to refinance the new homeowners' mortgages. The loans will be offered at 3 percent interest, according to James Littlejohn of the city housing department, who was with the tenant at settlement yesterday. Littlejohn said the homes probably can be fixed up for about $22,000 each.
The five 12th Place families will have to repay Zion Baptist Church for their contribution only if they sell their homes within five years.
Yesterday, Ashford, a family educational assistant at the Parent Child Center on 14th Street NW, signed papers showing that she owes $122 a month in mortgage payments for 30 years, at least until the loan is refinanced by the city.
Her new home is the first property she has owned since she left her tiny trailer in North Carolina and came to Washington on a bus almost eight years ago.
The settlement process left her tired but relieved, she said.
"I realize that a big part of the work is still in front of me," Ashford added.
Indeed, the bake sale days are not over for the five families. They must relocate to other rental housing some time later next fall while their houses are being rehabilitated. They now are trying to raise money - about $8,000 - to pay rent for their temporary housing for several months, according to their lawyer, Robert K. Stumberg of the D.C. Project community legal assistance center.
Some people who had assisted the families in some way in their homebuying efforts showed up yesterday, along with reporters and television cameras. They include City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker; City Council member David Clarke, whose ward includes 12th Place, and Frank Smith of the Adams Morgan Organization, who also is opposing Clarke in this year's race to represent Ward 1.
Clarke said yesterday's settlement means the 12th Place families now are "over the hump," but he added that there are more such struggles ahead. He citied nearby Seaton Street, NW, where nine low-and moderate-income families won the right to purchase their homes a year ago. The families, he said, have problems with their contractor and the city Redevelopment Land Agency, and those families still are in temporary housing.
The 12th Place families said they plan to hold a celebration on their street June 3 to thank all who have helped them.