Hundreds of Columbia Heights residents took to the street last Saturday - at a day-long, old-fashioned block party.
The festivities, held in the 1300 block of Euclid Street NW. were sponsored by the Columbia Heights Community Ownership Project to raise money for a neighborhood land trust.
"The money we raise today is goint to help us buy a house in the neighborhood. We're trying to buy them faster than the speculators," said Harold Moss. president of the project.
"We're trying to do as much grass roots community fundraising as possible. We want people to realize their responsibility in acquiring, renovating and sustaining their homes," he said. "We have no grants or help from government or business. The government is taking the houses away from us by their indifference."
The organization already has bought and renovated two houses in the neighborhood, one at 1302 Euchd St. for a family of 10 and a single older woman, and another house at 1428 Chapin St for six senior citizens. The group is negotiating to buy two more houses in Columbia Heights, which is bounded by Florida Avenue, Irving, 13th and 15th streets NW.
The group's reasons for organizing were described on a billboard exhibit at the block party. The sign pointed out that "the people in Columbia Heights have substandard housing, absentee and government landlords, high rents, constant threat of eviction, lots of abandoned buildings and lots, few chances to relocate and no chance of ownership in the neighborhood."
Saturday's crowd was entertained by three volunteer bands, Stories Untold, Mystic's Magic and Freeform Experience. There were raffles for prizes donated by area merchants, flea market sales, a dance contest, street theater and several food vendors.
Gladys Johnson, 10, said she thought the block party was "real nice. It's to help people buy houses. I ask people if they want to pay 25 cents for a (paper) brick and help build houses." Besides soliciting contributions for the land trust. Johnson blew up balloons all afternoon for a dart game.
Nishaun Hatton, 8, a resident of 13th Street, said she "spent the day working at the Ten Cent Table (of flea market items)." She guessed she had made $7.
The Sojourners, a religious group, also was helping the Columbia Heights Community Ownership Project. "Perk" Perkins, a member of the Sojourners who sits on the board of directors of the project, explained that Sojourners "is a Christian community that believes that the gospel calls for us to work with the poor." The group came to Washington three years ago from Chicago and has been in Columbia Heights for about 18 months.
"This week we are submitting a contract to buy 2542 13th St. at no profit to the owner," he said. "One family has been there for 12 years. They and the neighborhood have a right to the building."
Moss said that last March "two men bought a five-unit building at 2542 13th St. NW for $50,000, and now they're trying to sell it for $90,000 with no major improvements. We're going to try to get it for the people for $50,000 . . . "
Julie Edgerton, of Arlington, who was selling flea market items, said she and her husband became familiar with the neighborhood because of their involvement with the Sojourners. "We're hoping to move into the area, but we're worried about speculators and we're sensitive to the resentment of blacks and the whites already here of whites moving into the area," she said.
The Columbia Heights Community Ownership Project is planning more fundraisers. "We had a disco earlier this year at All Souls Church, but this is the first time we've had anything this big. We're going to keep this going this year and five years from now until we raise enough money," Moss said.