As a seller of condominiums, Conrad Cafritz [op-ed, May 19] does not tell about the possible pitfalls, such as having to commit a major portion of your take-home pay to mortgage, taxes and maintenance payments; buying an apartment whose renovation has been primarily cosmetic; living in a neighborhood that has become homogenized.
From the tenant's point of view, there are many factors to consider. If middle-aged or older tenants had wanted or could have afforded to buy housing, they probably would have done so long ago. Also, many older tenants sold their homes to enjoy "carefree" apartment living after being freed from their responsibilities to children, education, etc. Younger tenants may not be sure of what kind of housing they really want or need, do not have money available for purchasing, and therefore need to rent until such a decision can be reached without harassment. Spokespersons for conversion claim that a majority will opt to purchase, but most tenants I have interviewed would not purchase, want an alternative and, above all, would like to stay right where they are under a rental status.
The real issue is money - money for the down payment and the monthly cash flow. For example, a senior citizen tenant paying $275 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with garage now would have to pay $622 a month for the same unit. Since developers substantially understate maintenance costs, the maintenance portion of this figure can be expected to increase at least 65 percent within a year. A life-long resident of Montgomery County, whose family dates back to 1668 in Annapolis, says that she will have to leave.
The type of hardship that these payments create menas that most available monies will go to housing. This entails using savings. capital, borrowed money or whatever just to have housing. Then what happens in case of emergency or catastrophic illness? It also means that there is not enough money available for purchasing power over and above housing, a situation that is not healthy for the overall economy.
Cafritz stated that most tenants can find alternate accommodations. Whether we are talking about the District or Montgomery County, where the vacancy rate is less than two percent, this is a pious assertion that is substantiated to the contrary by the experience of many victims of condominium conversion. It appears that while some might benefit by purchasing, other lose their homes or their financial independence; thus, the primary beneficiary is the developer.
Cafritz also stated that "New resident apartment owners have a vested, long-term interest in the social and political fabric of their neighborhood." That kind of statement implies what landlords want tenants and the public to believe - what landlords have been implying for hundreds of years - that tenants are second-class citizens. That is why, for example, tenants in Friendship Heights were not allowed to vote in the local elections until 1973 - only the homeowners could vote.
I would also like to point out to Cafritz that the tenants in Montgomery County and the District care enough about their homes that they form associations for the batterment of all tenants, they work and speak out for legislation, and their efforts have gained rights that should always have been theirs but had been denied by the landlords.
Mr. Cafritz, you cannot have it both ways. If you think tenants are not committed to their communities now, what about all the converted units that are bought by investors and rented to individuals? (One recently converted building in the District is already 50 percent rental.) Do these renters have a vested interest in the community? Of course not, nor does the investor who cares only about the return on his/her money.
I wonder what has happened to our democratic way of life. I thought that it was based on freedom of choice - not being told what we can or cannot do; freedom of movement; being able to live where and in the manner that we deem best for us.