Last week, in what residents were calling the first 100 percent tenant purchase, the Bon Wit Plaza Tenants Association bought the Foggy Bottom apartment of the same name.
The tenants secured financing for the $4.25 million building without the aid of a developer or financial backer, allowing the residents to purchase their units at cost. Wlater McCabe, tenant association president, said most condominium units sold in the mid- $40s.
For many of the 70 tenants who were able to buy their units, the multimillion dollar building at 2401 H St. N.W. became the first piece of real estate they have owned.
"I could hardly sleep last night," said Minnie Wolf, as she waited to sign the papers which would transform her into a homeowner. "My husband and I got married during the Depression and we've never owned anything. We're kind of thrilled about this."
Patiently fanning themselves in the August heat, the tenant-purchasers sat at folding tables in the basement parish hall of St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church at 25th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW last week, waiting to sign legal documents which will enable them to buy their own units.
McCabe addressed his neighbors, recalling the months of hard work that led to this final step.
"This is a very happy day," he said. "Quite simply, it began when we asked each resident to pitch in a dollar to join the association, then we asked for $100 a piece to hire an engineer. When we needed a deposit, we raised $300,000 in five days.
"At that point, the unfriendly faces at the lending institutions became very friendly faces. They knew we were serious.
"After that, it was simply a matter of getting through the incredible Washington bureaucracy."
McCabe said that at times his anger drove him to pursue the purchase as animosity grew between the landlord and the tenants.
"I've been driven in part by anger," said McCabe. "I was angry that some of us wouldn't be able to afford the market price minus 10 percent many developers offered us. But we made it because each of you were there when we needed you."
From the time the tenants received an offer to buy the structure last winter, until the day of closing, association members were caught up in a whirlwind of meetings, consultations and conferences.
Alan Dranitzke, attorney for the tenants, said there was a high degree of professionalism among the Bon Wit tenants throughout the struggle to buy the building.
"Developers would love to be able to sell the condo units one day after they purchase a building," he said. "But they can't. The tenants here had all the paper work done and were ready to go."
Every Bon Wit resident did not become a condo-owner last week. According to association officers, 42 tenants are not buying their units because they are leaving Washington in the near future or are renters who do not wish to purchase. McCabe says very few tenants were displaced as a result of the transaction.
Tenants have 15 days to come to settlement before the remaining units are put on the market. One couple is waiting to sign the documents on their wedding anniversary, others were ill or out of town last week.
Surprisingly, Walter McCabe, who is a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, did not sign his papers with the majority of his neighbors.
"I've been so busy with meetings, I haven't had time to arrange my own financing," he said with some embarrassment."