The complex and sometimes contradictory nature of the housing market here has wrought confusion among owners, buyers, and developers alike. The following stories describe a D.C. housing official who could not avoid losing her rented apartment, and the return of a Virginia condominium project to rentals because of high interest rates.
Two years ago the District of Columbia's housing department hired long-time community activist Marie Nahikian to help low-income tenants fight their removal from the inner-city working class and poor neighborhoods that were rapidly becoming fashionable addresses for young white and black professionals.
Now Nahikian could use some of her own advice. She, too, has become a victim of displacement.
The Adams-Morgan house where she has rented an apartment for nine years is up for sale with a $230,000 price tage and she can't afford it.
Nahikian, 34, one of the city's early warriors against displacement, saw her community become one of the first in the city where black and Hispanic janitors, maids, government messengers and clerks were priced out of the apartments and rooming houses where many had lived for 20 and 30 years. They were replaced by mostly young white lawyers, accountants and consultants who bought the large distinctive turn-of-the-century homes that grace so many Adams-Morgan streets.
"I never thought it would ever happen to me," she said, seated on her front steps Wednesday night in a T-shirt asking, "Where the hell is Adams-Morgan?", while a going-away party in her honor progressed on the sidewalk in front of her.
"I thought I understood what displacement was all about. But I never knew what it felt like. You feel like you are losing a part of yourself. I did all my growing up on this block," she said.
While Nahikian does not symbolize the unknown number of poor families uprooted by the widespread return of whites to the city, she is a reminder that many middle-class singles and couples, with incomes between $25,000 and $40,000, are also being priced out of the city's downtown neighborhoods.
"It is always unfortunate and disturbing whenever anyone has to move involuntarily," said deputy city housing director James Clay. But he said the city's biggest problem remains that displacement of poor families because of the limited amount of affordable housing for those with low to moderate incomes.
When Nahikian moved into a $75-a-month apartment at 1829 Mintwood Pl. NW in 1969, she was part of the trend of white, liberalminded college students attracted to the Columbia Road area because of its cheap rents, diverse population and convenient mix of shops, restaurants and housing.
Nahikian's neighbors were working-class blacks, Hispanics and whites, many of whom worked as security guards, dishwashers and busboys at the nearby Washington Hilton Hotel. The blacks and Hispanics lived in the rooming houses and apartments that dotted the block between Columbia Road and 19th Street NW, while the whites generally were homeowners.
Two years later in 1971, when the house she was living in sold for $27,500, she moved to her current address, 1855 Mintwood, a four-story brown brick building in the middle of the block with large rooms, high ceilings and a parking space in the rear.
She became the executive director of the Adams-Morgan Organization (AMO), a community group organized to stem the speculation, displacement and renovation that was beginning in the southern part of the community on Willard Street NW.
And then it happened on her block.
"I really knew the change had come in 1976 because we didn't know the people on the block anymore," she recalled. All the black families and all but two of the Spanish families, who were homeowners, had vanished.
She vividly recalled one neighbor who was forced to move from his apartment after 20 years. "Mr. Hall got evicted by these two young lawyers that bought his building about the time that his wife died. He moved to another house on the block but he never recovered. He was very unhappy and he died three to four months later."
One of her friends and another neighbor helped her recall how the black nightclubs, television repair shops, storefront churches and barber shops were gradually replaced by white and Spanish restaurants. "There were no sidewalk cafes when we moved in," said the friend.
Nahikian and others lost some battles in fighting housing displacement, but she and other tenants convinced the city government to pass a succession of precedent-setting measures protecting tenants, requiring landlords to pay moving expenses, requiring a majority of tenants to consent to conversion of an apartment building into condominiums, giving tenants the first right to buy their buildings and requiring that tenants over 65 years of age be given the right to remain as tenants for three years after a building is converted.
The city also helps tenants buy their own buildings by providing down payment loans, technical assistance and long-term subsidies from the federal government.
Rita Gossage, 68, Nahikian's landlady, friend and next-door neighbor, said she is sad about forcing Nahikian and three other tenants to move.
"It makes you feel quite guilty," said Gossage, who also came to the party. "I really wish I could keep the house. I've always had real nice tenants. The only reason I'm selling is because the taxes and the oil have gone up so much." Moreover, since her husband's death last year, she said she feels she can no longer maintain the property.
Since she and her late husband, Raymond, who was known as the "Mayor of Mintwood Place," bought the homes at 1855 and 1857 Mintwood more than 30 years ago for less than $10,000, the value of their property has increased more than 2,000 percent.
At the party, Nahikian's friends gave her a large card with a map showing the route from her new home a few blocks away at the Plazza West Cooperative at 16th Street and Columbia Road back to Mintwood Place.
"It's not really so-o-o far away Marie," the friends wrote.