The house Clive and Michelle Hoffman bought for $250 in 1996 was "an upscale crack house," he said, meaning "people in three-piece suits would come around at 3 in the morning, knocking on the door."
That's what the neighbors of 225 Ingraham St. NW in Petworth told him. That's why, he said, they were desperate to get the abandoned property picked up by the city and returned to private ownership. The neighbors "turned in" the house to the homestead program, he said, starting legal procedures to prove the owners were long gone and the taxes unpaid.
The structure, built in 1937, had been vacant for about four years by 1996. It sits in the middle of a neat row of two-story brick row houses with front porches and metal awnings that face Rudolph Elementary School's playground. The streets around it, with wave after wave of alternating styles of brick homes, feel like many of the District's classic 1930s town house developments.
The Hoffmans bid on it because the property was in "the best shape as far as you could tell from the outside" of units offered in '96, Clive Hoffman said.
After they won, they found out how bad it was inside. Ceilings and walls had to be removed, the plumbing and electrical wiring had to be replaced and the kitchen needed major updating. Hoffman declined to say how much was spent. But the family's income was too high for low-income loans from the city. He took bids from five contractors and "reworked them a few times to get within our budget." The work took a year.
Hoffman, 36, a health care administrator, and his wife, 31, now a teacher, rented on Capitol Hill before entering the lottery. "We had been trying to find an affordable way" to stay in the city," Clive Hoffman said.
Though the neighborhood they ended up in is mostly black and they are white, they said they felt very comfortable with the fit. "We were welcomed very graciously into the neighborhood," recalled Hoffman. "We had people inviting us into their houses for [renovating] ideas.
"Before we moved in, we had our church [Christ Our Shepherd Church in Eastern Market] pray over the house," he said. "And we had one of the neighbors stop by to pray with us."
Following the advice of the homestead program, the Hoffmans attend community meetings and are active in the neighborhood. "We love being here," Hoffman said.
The neighborhood's embrace, he said, is particularly moving in view of the fact that when some of the black neighbors moved, in the '50s and '60s, into what had been a white neighborhood, there were stories about how they were discriminated against.
"They had the right" to be less than friendly but chose not to be, Hoffman said.
CAPTION: Neighbor Cornelia Braddy, seated, helped Clive and Michelle Hoffman adjust to life in Petworth. "We were welcomed very graciously into the neighborhood," he says.