After an intense year-long battle, nine lower-income families living as tenants in houses in the 1700 block of Seaton Street NW, have won a precedent-setting agreement to buy their houses from redevelopers who had wanted instead to evict them.
Under the agreement reached last week and made public yesterday - one day before the two sides were to square off in court - the developers offered to sell the families their rented homes at prices ranging from $13,500 to $21,000 each.
Community leaders hailed the agreement as a major victory for low-income renters in Adams-Morgan, where Seaton Street is located, and similar neighborhoods throughout the inner city where developers are buying up rowhouses for renovation and resale to affluent home buyers.
"We needed a victory to keep the hope and faith that they could become residents of a good community." Adams-Morgan Organization chairman Frank Smith said of the tenants, "and not always suffer the plight of running from one ghetto to another, saying one step ahead of the developers."
AMO, which helped forge the agreement, had drawn a battle line at Seaton Street - a one-block segment of decaying row houses between 17th Street and Florida Avenue - in a campaign to stop redevelopers from ousting low-income tenants wholesale to replace them with affluent families seeking in-town residences.
The first victory won by AMO was a recent ruling by D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Belson upholding a provision of the city's rent control law that requires landlords who rent out single-family homes to offer them first to their tenants when reselling the homes.
While community organizers view the agreement with the developers, Centre Properties, Inc., as a victory, they acknowledge the Seaton Street tenants will have to be heavily subsidized by both private and U.S. sources to meet mortgage and rehabilitation costs.
Nevertheless, there is a "precedent now for people resisting the sale of their homes to speculators who will fix them up and sell them at high profits," said D.C. City Councilman David A. Clarke, who represents ward one embracing the Seaton Street area.
Ralph Werner, attorney for Centre Properties, called the settlement "a fair settlement for all involved."
He said he hopes "Whatever heat and emotion" generated by the dispute will "dissipate and be eliminated."
Although the tenants are black and most of the new owners buying the renovated homes on the street are whites, the tenants have said in interviews they had no desire to block white movement onto their street or into their commnuity . They said they want only the right to buy the homes they had rented for so long.
"I'm very, very happy," said Louise Bolton, 61, the longest term tenant on the block and a member of one of the families that fought to stay put. "I've been living here on this street since 1942 and I just hated to get up and go," she said yesterday.
The battle for Seaton Street began just a little more than a year ago when Centre Properties bought 27 homes on the narrow street and sent eviction notices to the 22 occupied homes.
The tenants were given 30 days to leave their homes. Through AMO, they hired at attorney and filed suit against Centre Properties, charging against Centre Properties, charging that the city's rent control law had been violated because they had not been given the first opportunity to buy the homes.
The number of tenants on the block gradually dwindled as Centre moved in and started renovating other properties on the block and selling the conditioned homes at prices ranging from $56,000 to $70,000.
The number of tenants on the block gradually dwindled as Centre moved in and started renovating other properties on the block and selling the re-conditioned homes at prices ranging from $56,000 to $70,000.
The controversy swirled around the block, and nine remaining families stayed as workmen hammered and sawed and painted on other houses in the block, and moved in new refrigenators stoves, garbage disposals, dish-washers, air-conditioners, washers and dryers.
Finally, an agreement was reached after an eight-hour meeting May 18 in the chambers of Superior Court Judge John Garrett Penn, Weitz said. Judge Belson had asked both sides to try to reach an agreement and asked Penn to mediate the discussions, according to Alan Weit, an attorney with the firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, who represented the tenants with out charge.
The sales prices to the tenants are "substantially below" what the houses could bring if sold on the open market Werner said, but they are higher than what Centre Properties paid for them last year.
According to Smith of AMO, Centre Properties paid an average price of $135,000 for the nine homes and are now selling them to the tenants for an average of $17,000.
Smith and Weitz agree that some of the tenants, because of their modest incomes, will need help making their mortgage payments, especially after costs of low interest rehabilitation loans from the city government are added. Weitz said he hopes to reduce the number of tenants needing long-term subsidies by increasing the teamount of cash downpayments made by them. AMO has agree to subsidize both down payments and mortgage payments, he said.
To finance the down payments the tenants will contribute their own money in part. Money contributed at fund-raising parties sponsored by AMO and funds several foundations will cover the rest, AMO says.
In addition, Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan has agreed to lend the mortgage money needed to buy the homes, and the city government has said money will be available to the tenants to renovate their homes once they have gained title to them.
A $10,000 deposit is due on the homes Friday, and the tenants must agree to buy by June 20 and go to settlement July 15.
Centere Properties is a group of real estate agents and developers, Werner said, but he refused to identify them. According to papers filed by Centre with the city's recorder of deeds in 1975, the original incoporators were George M. Ward, Mary L. Walls and Richard T. Rezzi, all listed at 918 16th St. NW. The directors were Thomas F. Herr, president, and Robert L. Beckmann and Karin M. Herr, all listed at 7315 Wisconsin Ave. N.W. The copration has failed to file annual statements of its directors for 1976 and 1977 as required by D C law.