The NAACP, squeezed by escalating rents in New York City, has begun negotiations with the District's urban renewal agency to buy a building in the 14th Street corridor for a new national headquarters.
Faced with a 100 percent rent increase for the office space its headquarters has occupied in Manhattan for nearly 30 years, the NAACP told the Redevelopment Land Agency last month it wants to move to the former Hines Funeral Home at 2901 14th St. NW, in the heart of an area that still bears scars of the 1968 riots.
NAACP Chairman Margaret Bush Wilson said, "There was a strong feeling that the NAACP should acquire its own property" because "here we are at the mercy of a landlord in New York," who wants to raise the rent on the offices at 1790 Broadway from $12.50 a square foot to $25.
Wilson said the civil rights organization wanted to locate in either New York or Washington, and that Washington seemed the better location because of the opportunity to buy property here. She said real estate prices in New York precluded the organization from buying its own building there.
The NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization, has been headquartered in New York since its founding 72 years ago. Its New York staff numbers 130, and 90 of those would move to Washington if negotiations with the city are successful, Wilson said.
The RLA board voted yesterday to formally begin 45 days of negotiations with the NAACP for the turreted, three-story brick building, long an impressive 14th Street landmark that has now fallen into disrepair. No sale price has yet been set.
Two weeks ago, the RLA board heard vehement opposition to the proposed sale from some members of the 14 Street Project Area Committee, a community group, which the city tried to evict from the building several months ago. RLA created such a committee each of the city's three riot corridors after the 1968 riots to allow citizens in those neighborhoods to participate in the rebuilding of their community.
Calling the building "our home," Committee Chairman Dick Jones told the RLA board that the city should give his organization the building free of charge. Jones could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to the board's minutes, RLA chairman Nira Long said the choice between the committee and the NAACP was not based on the merits of each organization but on which had the financial ability to buy and renovate the building.
"It is a question of providing land for a community-based organization free as opposed to providing land for another organization that can pay," Long told Jones.
She added that she was unsure whether the board could "give away land" that "we had to pay for out of public funds."
Nia Krumba, another committee board member, said the NAACP "wants to displace or evict us by whatever means from our home. We are those people that they say they are struggling for."
Dr. Broadus M. Butler, the NAACP representative who attended the meeting two weeks ago, said the organization was unaware that the building was occupied.
Last year the city cut off about $250,000 in funds to the committee after two audits found its records in "extremely poor condition," said Housing Director Robert L. Moore, who is also an RLA board member. Jones said that because of the funding cutoff, the committee is no longer running any programs.
Moore said the housing department has paid $46,000 in back taxes owed by the committee, and that the department and the committee are still trying to resolve $12,000 removed from petty cash for which there are no receipts. Moore said there appears to be no evidence of wrongdoing.
The city has been trying for some time to force the committee to give up its offices in the building, but Krumba staged a four month sit-in. Moore said she left last week and the building is now boarded up and vacant. He said the city will try to find another location for the committee's offices. Krumba could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The NAACP's lease in New York expires in August and they will look for temporary office space until they make a final decision about a permanent home, Mrs. Wilson said.