Thanksgiving came early last week for five low-income residents of a Northwest apartment complex.
With nearly $27,000 in down payment money, the residents purchased two, four-unit buildings at 5000 and 5004 Second St. NW, just 45 minutes short of a settlement deadline that would have left them homeless had they not met it. The buildings cost them $93,000.
Stanlie Barton, president of the newly formed Brightwood Park Cooperative, called the day "Good Friday."
Joined by supporters who helped them during the six-month struggle to buy the buildings, the new owners, neighbors who had lived as strangers in the complex as long as 17 years, sat in Barton's living room laughing like old friends. Florence Queenan and Glendora Thomas, Barton's mother and sister, led a cheering section.
"hip hip hooray, we have our homes!" cheered thomas playfully.
"it's better than moving around," said octogenarian Queenan.
Throughout the evening, Ward 4 City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, who had also lent a helping hand, lounged in an easy chair sipping coffee.The group's legal advisor, Bob Stumberg, associate director of the Harrison Institute for Public Law, hugged Barton. And Larry Weston, Esther Siegel and Rick Eisen of the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association (MWPHA) beamed as they talked about the victory.
The down payment money came from the District's Home Purchase Assistance Program, Jarvis explained. The program assists low-income residents raise down payment money to purchase homes. Funding is provided through a HUD grant.
The Brightwood Park Cooperative is the second multi-unit facility to receive funds from the program, Siegel said. Tel-court, in Southwest, was the first.
The Brightwood cooperative is also the first co-op formed with help from the MWPHA, a nonprofit advocacy group promoting affordable housing.
To finance the balance of the 66,030 mortgage, the former landlord, Paul Gordon, agreed to "take back the mortgage" on the property at a 10 1/2 percent interest rate to be paid over 15 years, said Weston, director of the cooperative housing services division of MWPHA.
With prime interest rates now topping 15 percent, "you can't beat that with a stick," he chuckled.
Eisen agreed. "The owner take-back fanancing was the key. It means you don't have to go to a lender. The (former) owner acts as a lender."
Siegel mentioned another key factor: sustained, personal involvement by Jarvis. The city council member attended every tenant meeting she was invited to, and acted as a conduit to city officials.
"it shows the tenants they don't go to the polls for nothing," Siegel said.
Monthly mortgage and operating costs for the co-op will average about $190 for one-bedroom apartments and $210 for two-bedroom units, Weston said. The co-op is seeking a federal grant for rehabilitation assistance. A $3,000 line of credit has already been established with the D.C. Development Corporation, a nonprofit housing group, to make immediate repairs.
The celebration's one sad note was struck over the fact that the group had been unable to purchase the entire 16-unit, four-building complex and thus prevent the displacement of the mostly ederly and single low-income people who live there.
Three financially solvent residents -- Barton, Archie B. Conway Jr. and Escelean Brown -- had raised $9,000 of their own funds so everyone in the four buildings could stay. But not enough tenants were interested in buying their apartments, they said.
The $9,000 has been placed in escrow to be used as emergency reserve funds for the co-op, Weston said.
The fate of the tenants in the other two buildings is unknown.
"it really saddens me that they will take whatever's handed to them," said Thomas of tenants who won't fight displacement. "More tenants should band together."