By selling tacos, tortillas, fried chicken and chitlins, a group of low-income black and Hispanic tenants have raised a $26,750 deposit to buy their Columbia Road apartment building.
"There have been many sacrifices," said Casilda Luna, president of the newly formed Imperial Apartments Tenant Association.
"We have a low-income building and many residents had to dig deep into their pockets to make this work," Luna said.
Efforts to convert the apartments at 1763 Columbia Rd. NW to a tenant-controlled cooperative after the owner decided to sell the building last November were off to a shaky start because of problems between blacks and Hispanos in the tenants group, according to Luna. Negotiations between the factions in the tenants group began last month, three weeks before the 38-unit building was to be sold.
Each tenant had to come up with $720, explained Luna. To raise the down payments, the apartment building was quickly converted to a make-shift delicatessen where residents sold food.
"They virtually raised all the money themselves," said Jerry Dobson, lawyer for the tenants.
The reason for the last-ditch effort, Luna said, was that "we all feared that more than 100 tenants would be displaced and there would be no place for us to go."
As the February deadline grew near, the tenants were still short more than $6,000 toward their deposit.
With the help of several community organizations, the tenants association received a $6,750 low-interest loan from the D.C. Development Corporation. The tenants signed the contract to buy their building the first week of February.
Luna said the tenant association has 60 days to find permanent financing for the $535,000 apartment building or it will be sold. Under a District housing law, tenants have the first right to purchase the building.
The five-story building, which is occupied by many residents on public assistance, has one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Just a block away, tenants at the Beverly Court apartments -- a building that houses local artists -- successfully converted their building to a tenant-controlled cooperative last April.
Buoyed by the achievement at Beverly Court, Luna said she and other Imperial Apartment dwellers are hoping the D.C. government will help pay the escalated rent costs for tenants once the building is purchased.
"We are really hoping to get some type of subsidy because these residents are now paying about $235 a month for a three-bedroom apartment."
Luna explained that after the building is purchased, and an estimated $100,000 is spent to rehabilitate the deteriorating structure, costs for three-bedroom units could be as much as $365 a month.
Fifty-one percent of the residents at Imperial Apartments are participating in converting the building to a cooperative, Luna said. She added that the tenant association has accepted $1,000 deposits from nonresidents who are hoping to move into the building.
Although the efforts to purchase the building have just begun, Luna said, "I think we have passed the first major hurdle."