A group of about 75 citizens and community activists chanting Spanish slogans and carrying bilingual signs marched yesterday in Adams-Morgan to protest the sale of the Imperial, a tattered Columbia Road apartment building occupied primarily by low-income Hispanic tenants.
George Dravillas, a real estate developer and new owner of the property has sent residents eviction notices informing them they must vacate the rundown 37-unit building by Thanksgiving Day. According to Jerry Dobson, attorney for the tenant group, Dravillas has said he plans to convert the property to office space.
Casilda Lunas, president of the Imperial tenant's association, said residents of the Imperial organized to buy the building from its former owner, Mildred Bryan, in November 1979, but were given only 60 days to come up with cash for the entire $535,000 selling price. Tenants later learned from court records that Bryan agreed to become the secured party for more than $400,000 of the selling price, and that Dravillas was allowed to make a down payment of a little more than $100,000 and given five years to pay off the rest. Tenants' attorneys say Bryan had refused earlier to agree to a similar offer from the Imperial residents.
Dravillas and his attorney declined to comment on the matter late yesterday.
"I think she [Bryan] wanted to get rid of us because we are not white," Lunas said. "When you tell the tenants they have just a few days to come up with the entire price, and then sell theproperty to a speculator with only a partial down payment, I don't think thelaw which gives tenants the first chance to buy has been well carried out." Lunas said she has lived in the Imperial for more than 16 years, and during that time "the place was never kept up after the white people moved out. But still it was home for us."
Attorneys fot the tenants say there are more than 300 housing code violations in the building. City records were not available yesterday to determine the accuracy of this statement.
Ward 1 City Councilman David A. Clarke attended the rally and told demonstators that the city, through the Department of Housing and Community Devlopment, would like to buy the building and turn it back to the residents as low-income housing. "The owner has said that there is no support in Adams-Morgan for low-income housing, but I am here to say that there is such support. Adams-Morgan is willing to shoulder its share of the community responsiblility in this matter," he said.
Later, Clarke said that he could find no immediate evidence of any violations of real estate law in the Imperial sale, but that the issue remains an important one because of the rapid disapperance of low-income housing from the transitional Northwest Washington neighborhood.
As the group prepared to march to Dravillas' cheerily-painted green and white Columbia Road office, Adolfo Nunes, who has lived in the Imperial since coming to the United States fromNicaragua 11 years ago, lamented the fate of his home. "We don't have another place to go," he said. "I just don't understand this. I was sure these things didn't happen in America."
"It's not fair," said Nellie Abreau, a 10-year resident. "To put people out at the beginning of winter, when they have made an honest effort to raise the money . . . it's cruel."