Last year, they faced foreclosure and eviction. Last month, they were the focus of a bidding war between dueling developers. And last night, with a deal finally struck, the retirees and single mothers who live in the Sursum Corda housing cooperative were contemplating the heady prospect of becoming homeowners in the District's booming real estate market.
"We are on our way," said Charles Bolden, a retired federal worker who has lived in the low-income complex since it was built in the late 1960s. "I see a lot of people smiling."
At a news conference late yesterday, Sursum residents announced that they have accepted a company's offer to redevelop their rapidly appreciating property just north of the U.S. Capitol in exchange for $80,000 per household, half of the profits and the promise of a new home.
The deal between KSI Services Inc., one of the region's largest residential developers, and Sursum Corda's 167 low-income families was hammered out last week during intense negotiations after residents forced KSI to sweeten its offer to overcome a competing bid. KSI had offered a guaranteed minimum payment of $50,000 per household and 15 percent of the profits on homes built for sale to more affluent buyers.
KSI Senior Vice President Dick Knapp said the company could break ground as soon as spring.
Although some Sursum residents remained skeptical of the deal and the sometimes secretive process by which it was brokered, dozens of others gathered late yesterday in an amphitheater beside the complex's leasing office to learn the details and to applaud leaders of the Sursum board of directors for fighting for a better deal.
"I couldn't believe they upped it to $80,000," said Rickie Gall, who has lived in the complex for seven years. "All the board members, they all did a heck of a job."
Although Gall said she's ready to take her $80,000 and move elsewhere, former board president Beverly Estes said she believes many people will take advantage of KSI's offer to use the money as a down payment on some of the 500 units to be built on the site at a cost of about $235,000 each.
"We've been through it all. So why leave now when the rain has finally stopped and now the sun is shining?" Estes said.
Estes played a leading role in the year-long campaign to save the complex, one of the few federally subsidized complexes in the nation that is owned and managed by its residents. Purchased by the resident cooperative for $10 in 1992, the nearly six-acre parcel near New York Avenue and North Capitol Street is estimated to be worth as much as $50 million.
Last year, the complex failed its second health and safety inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which threatened to foreclose and put the residents out on the street with the uncertain comfort of housing vouchers.
Estes and the board fought to maintain their ownership rights and began soliciting help from nonprofit organizations and developers. In the spring, through the efforts of board member Shiv Newaldass, a recent Georgetown University graduate, the board assembled a high-powered group of politically connected partners that includes KSI; the MGM Group, a Virginia partnership of former Washington Redskins players; and LuAnn Bennett, wife of Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.).
In an agreement approved by residents in September, KSI fixed up the property, brought the mortgage current, hired security guards and lifted the threat of HUD foreclosure. In all, KSI offered a package of benefits worth $25 million.
Disappointed with that arrangement, Newaldass attracted a second offer, worth as much as $50 million, from the nonprofit Manna Inc. and a group of investors led by Rob Stewart of JBG Cos. The board used the Manna offer to negotiate with KSI. On Friday, board members voted 7 to 1 to stick with the company that had earned their trust.
Last night, Sursum residents stood to praise KSI for helping them through a time of crisis.
"There were many times we thought we could lose our homes," board President Lorraine Tyler said. "We have not only managed to stay here, but we have realized how much we truly have."
Sursum Corda board member Beverly Estes said she believes many people will use the $80,000 as a down payment on units to be built on the site.