Joyce Chambers was the first tenant to move into Ordway apartments back in 1965, and she said she "expected to die there.
"I was close to my doctors and to shops, and cabs came there easily," sighed the 75-year-old, partially disabled widow. "I had day help and a nurse at night and a lot of friends who helped me out more than I can say."
So Chambers was shocked to find an eviction notice in her mail box on May 30 announcing Ordway's conversion to condominiums. The notice gave her 120 days, until Oct. 1, to vacate the building where she had lived for 13 years.
"I felt like it was the end of the world," she recalled quietly. "I never expected it, and it caused me quite an upset."
While her late husband's government pension and some savings were enough to pay the $332 monthly rent on Chambers' two-bedroom apartment, she couldn't afford the $66,025 that the developers were asking for the planned condominium.
"I had no alternative," Chambers said from her room at the nursing home she moved into last month. "It's been tough, but I guess you've got to survive."
The Ordway, a 42-unit red brick structure at 2711 Ordway St. NW, rides on the recent wave of District condominium conversions. In the first half of 1978, conversions had reached the 5,305 unit level, a 765 percent increase over the entire 1974 level, according to figures released this week by the city rent administrator's office.
With an increased number of landlords quitting the renting game, the Ordway tenant's plight is becoming a familiar tale among residents of moderately priced apartments.
This tenant eviction story, which had recent installments at McLean Gardens, Mintwood and Swarthmore apartments, goes something like this:
Pointing a finger at rent control, inflation and rising utility costs, a District landlord claims that continued ownership of an apartment building would be unprofitable. The landlord distributes eviction notices to tenants and plans to sell the building to a developer. The developer, in turn, plans to convert the rental property into a more profitable investment, like condominiums.
Ordway tenants have banded together to fight the conversion by forming the Ordway Renters' Allinace (ORAL). With moderately priced rental housing in the District on the endageromes.
"I realize the owners have a right to make a profiomes.
"I realize the owners have a right to make a profit, but that should be balanced by our right to have a home," asserted 27-year-old attorney Elizabeth Bunn, one of ORAL's organizers. "This is one of the most positive living arrangements I've ever been in because the tenants are so diverse. We have children, elderly, young couples and Spanish-speaking families. It's tremendously frustating to have to move now."
ORAL has held several tenants' meetings with about two dozen people crowded into a one-bedroom apartment and a bilingual tenant translating the proceedings into Spanish. So far they have built a strong community spirit and formulated a list of demands.
Last month they presented these demands to Ordway's buyers , Holland and Lyons, real estate developers. Demands include payment of expenses for moving and for finding comparable accommodations, reimbursement of the rent difference between Ordway and the new accommodations and special financial consideration for several "hardship cases" in the building.
In response to ORAL's demands, Holland and Lyons sent tenants a letter last week offering financial compensation to aid relocation. Each apartment will receive $250 for moving expenses plus up to $150 in housing assistance payments if the rent in the tenant's new apartment exceeds the rent paid at Ordway.
Tenants also were furnished information on the proposed condominiums with the offer of a 5 percent discount. The average one-bedroom apartment at Ordway rented for $241 a month. The renovated one-bedroom Ordway condominium normally will sell for $54,500 or for $51,775 with the 5 percent discount.
"We don't believe in throwing people out on the street," said Holland and Lyons president Bob Holland. The developer said that the financial compensation being offered to Ordway tenants isn't required by law, but is offered through his company's sense of fairness.
Holland said that continuing to operate the Ordway as rental apartments would be impossible because District rent control makes being a landlord too unprofitable.
"I wouldn't own rental units in this city because the rent control here is the worst in the world," he noted. "And it's kind of scary the way the city government sees the landlord as the bad guy."
Condominiums also satisfy a need, because people who couldn't afford a $200,000 house can afford a $40,000 condominium, according to Holland.
"What about people who want to own something of their own?" he asked. "Are they to be punished because it means displacing people?"
While some Ordway tenants appear pleased with the developer's offer, others aren't appeased.
"I think they were patronizing," said Geoffrey Becker, an ORAL organizer. "They made some attempt to meet our concerns, but they haven't gone far enough if you look at our demands in the context of the trauma of being uprooted."
Becker said he and his wife considered buying "just for a moment" but decide against it.
"We could afford it if we wanted to give up a lot of things. But we don't want to participate in the whole system. The developers are taking it for granted that all this has to happen. I'm not so sure it does."
ORAL is currently soliciting the help of the Adelante Advocacy Center to aid in their fight.
"Ultimately what we want is to stay here forever," he said. "Realistically we want to stay at Ordway as long as we need to, to find suitable housing and get a fair shake from the real estate company."