"The Swarthmore is not just a story about an apartment building. The Swarthmore is a story about people working together," said Despina Kaneles, president of the Swarthmore Tenants Associations (STA), as she addressed about 80 tenants and guests Sunday night.
Unlike most tenant gatherings, this was not a ponderous meeting, but a celebration. Four days earlier, STA members had signed a contract to buy their 88-unit apartment building, at 1010 25th St. NW in Foggy Bottom, for tenant condominium conversion.
Under the terms of the agreement, the tenants must arrange financing for the $2 million purchase and come to settlement in 90 days with Raymond Howar, a trustee for the Howar family, which owns the building.
Beneath a brown paper banner reading "Saved Our Swarthmore," the tenants and their supporters shared a buffet dinner in the parish hall of St. Stephen's Catholic Church, across the street from the Swarthmore. The mood was festive. People hugged and congratulated each other as they arrived.
Joining them were City Council members Hilda Mason (D-At Large) and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large). Also present were representatives from at last four other tenant groups, all in various stages of tenant purchases.
Seated at a long white table, bright with black eyed susans and chrysanthemums, Mason discussed with several guests the effects of the controversial emergency legislation that removed the interest ceiling on housing loans.
"I did not support that measure," she explained. "Sure, it will help tenants get mortgage money, but I worry about that expresson, allowing interest to rise as high as the market will bear.
"Where will that be? What happens when you lose your job and can't pay the mortgage? I remember Washington in 1932," she said, shaking her head. "We had bread lines."
Departing early because of another commitment Mason stopped at the door and told the crowd, "Thank you very much for having me. This is an exciting thing, I wish you well. Now, help me out -- come down to the District Building and testify in favor of my condominimum bill."
Maggie Cox, president of the newly organized Jefferson House Tenants Association at 922 24th St. NW seemed buoyed by the enthusiasm of the STA, a group formed in 1978 and considered veterans by his tenant standards.
"This is really a morale booster," she said. "At the Jefferson we haven't decided yet what we will do, buy seeing a group like the Swarthmore succeed is great." CAPTION: Picture, Swarthmore Tenants Association President Despina Kaneles and Councilwoman Hilda Mason. By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post