The District government plans to spend $100,000 repairing the town houses of a Northeast Washington public housing project that will then be sold to families who are living there.
The city will hold a public hearing April 21 on the proposed sale of the Wylie Court project. Eighteen of the families at the 28-unit project, most of whom have been at Wylie Court for five years, have decided to buy. The city's Department of Housing and Community Development is interviewing families to find purchasers for the other 10 houses.
The city hopes to go to closing on the town houses by September, but the sale is already more than six months behind schedule. No contractors have been hired for the work, which will include painting, new screen doors and minor repairs.
The sale of the well-kept Wylie Court houses, at 13th and I streets NE, is part of the latest effort by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to help low-income families become homeowners by selling them public housing units. Wylie Court was built with money lent by HUD. Under the government's experiment, 1,305 public housing units in 18 communities will be sold to private owners.
The prices of the three-story brick town houses will be $60,000 for three-bedroom houses, $65,000 for four-bedroom houses and $72,000 for five-bedroom houses. The city will lend the tenants money for down payments and settlement costs, which are expected to total about 10 percent of the purchase price.
The families, who have annual salaries ranging from $19,000 to $40,000, moved into the town houses with the understanding that, under an earlier HUD program, they eventually could purchase their houses.
But until the new program the city could never reduce the prices enough to enable the families to make mortgage payments and pay utility bills and property taxes.
"I feel ecstatic, we're finally going to get there," said Laverne Law, president of the Wylie Court Home Buyers Association.
"I don't think we're going to have any problem [with mortgage payments] because one of the criteria for being in the program was that you had to be able to meet the payments," said Law, a word processing supervisor who earns $21,300 annually and has four children.
In preparation for the sale, the families recently completed a 17-week training program, conducted by Ministries United to Support Community Life Endeavors (MUSCLE), to learn about various aspects of home ownership, including property taxes, mortgage payments, condominium associations and maintenance costs. Six follow-up sessions will be held after the purchases.
"The tenants will be responsible for paying their mortgage and condominium fees as well as upkeep on the units after they are purchased," said Saundra Boyd-Owens, the Wylie project coordinator for the city's housing and community development department.
An opponent of the sale of public housing, attorney Florence Roisman, said, "This whole plan is nothing but a fraud." Roisman, of the Housing Law Project, which represents public housing tenants, added, "Any housing units sold to public housing tenants [will] five years from now end up in the hands of speculators . . . the tenants will be in debt and without a place to live."
Roisman said HUD tried to sell privately owned houses to low-income families in early 1960s, "but they were a complete disaster, the tenants were unable to pay for the maintenance of the units and they ended up selling them."
If the new Wylie Court homeowners sell their houses before seven years have elapsed, the city government will take 95 percent of the profit, Boyd-Owens said.
"I endorse this program," said City Council member Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6), whose ward includes Wylie Court. "It's time for people to have a piece of the rock, and ownership is the way to go . . . . I'm pleased, the people over there seem to be living well."
The town houses have living rooms and dining rooms, eat-in kitchens, and basements with plumbing and electrical hookups for washing machines.