Mayor Marion Barry yesterday announced that the District of Columbia has been awarded a $3.1 million U.S. grant to help low-income tenants buy their apartments when their buildings are sold or converted to condominiums.

The announcement came at a District Building reception for representatives of 28 local tenants associations that have succeeded in buying their buildings. Eighteen of the groups were predominantly low-income.

The funds from the Housing and Urban Development Department will provide money for start-up costs and down payments to tenant associations where 50 percent of the members meet federal guidelines on their incomes.

The guidelines are based on a sliding scale, which ranges from a maximum of $13,550 for a single person to $24,200 for a family of eight or more.

In order to qualify, the association must also agree to remain a "low-yield co-op." According to Marie Nahikian, special assistant to the administrator of the D.C. Housing and Business Resource Administration, this means that the tenants may not make a profit of more than 10 percent when they sell their shares of the building.

"If public money is going to be spent on these buildings, we want to make sure that other low-income people can move in later," Nahikian said.

The District of Columbia can disburse the funds to the tenant groups as it sees fit.

She added that the grant, first sought a year ago, will be administrated through a community-based organization, possibly the District of Columbia Development Corporation. But she said that plans are not completed yet.

Tenant groups who have received a notice of intent to sell, and wish to participate in the program, should contact Nahikian's office for additional information and assistance.

Nahikian said that while the HUD grant will not help all of the tenant groups who are trying to buy their buildings, it will give some the initial capital they need and "the initiative to seek funds from the private sector."

Barry, who called the trend toward tenant-owned buildings a "tangible form of displacement prevention," said he intends to return to HUD for more funds for the program.

"This is just the beginning," he told the more than 300 persons at the reception. "The 2,700 units which you represent are no small number in this tight housing market. And unless this administration helps to provide a place for people to live, the rest of what we do is in vain."