Housing Complex

Adams Morgan’s Funkiest House Is About to Realize Its Dream

SRO-3

In February, I reported on a house that's not quite like its Adams Morgan neighbors. Shiny wallpaper depicting topless women and blackface minstrels lines the first and second floors. There's no living room or dining room, just shared bathrooms on each hallway. The walls are in varying states of deterioration.

And, most significantly, the house was on the verge of becoming something truly novel in the District: the city's first tenant-owned rooming house, or single-room occupancy.

When I first visited 1919 Calvert St. NW, it was up for sale, with a buyer lined up. But the low-income tenants were trying to use their Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act rights to match the offer and buy the place themselves. And they were facing a formidable hurdle: the need to line up a low-interest loan from the Department of Housing and Community Development before time ran out and they lost the house.

Fortunately, as they encountered delays, the competing buyer was cooperative in extending the deadline, and today the tenants' hopes will come to fruition when DHCD officials sign a letter of commitment for a loan to the tenants to complete the purchase and renovation of the house, in partnership with the nonprofit housing organization Mi Casa.

DHCD actually first agreed to provide a loan this summer, but the offer was contingent on several steps that had to be taken by the residents of the house, according to John Mangin of Georgetown University's Harrison Institute for Housing and Community Development, who has been assisting the residents. In order to receive the funding, they needed to find a partner with affordable housing experience, and they had to submit a detailed renovation plan. The initial offer was for just under $1 million.

Now, having satisfied those commitments, the tenants are on their way toward exercising their TOPA rights. DHCD has upped its offer based on the renovation estimates, to around $1.2 million. Mi Casa will actually own the house and receive the loan, which it will pay back with rent collected from the tenants. Rents will increase 5 percent after the renovations, from their current levels of $130 to $175 a week—a fraction of the market rent for Adams Morgan. Subsequently, they'll go up by no more than 2 percent per year.

The purchase price of the house is just shy of $1 million. Hard construction costs will be around $450,000, and there will be additional soft construction costs and other expenses. In addition to the DHCD loan, Mi Casa is receiving a loan of about $450,000 from the Institute for Community Economics at the National Housing Trust, according to Mangin.

The partnership with Mi Casa means that D.C.'s would-be first-ever tenant-owned SRO isn't really going to be tenant-owned. But as a model of affordable housing, it's still a model of sorts. Rather than building new housing for low-income residents at a great cost, the city is investing $1.2 million that it expects to be paid back, simply to preserve an affordable home in an increasingly unaffordable neighborhood as it is—with a few necessary improvements. It's too early to say for sure, but this longshot experiment is starting to look like a success story.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Northwesterner

    This is really bad bad news. None of these kinds of tenant-owned houses work and they all end up in a disastrous situation 10-20 years down the road. There is nothing that someone can do to solve someone else's problems that are so entrenched as to affect their very housing situation. Simply put, ALL of the effort put into this project would have MUCH better results for the individuals if every dime that was put into this was instead spent sending these individuals to get graduate degrees so they can be productive professional members of society. Stop wasting time and energy on failed housing solutions- remember 100% of public housing plans have failed from Rent Control, Pruitt-Igoe-style slums, etc. Not one plan has ever been successful. Focus on educating the residents so they are no longer part of the underclass but are nurses, engineers, computer programmers, and other needed skills. These complex housing plans are Ponzi schemes that will require more and more volunteer time and donations until they have sapped all volunteers of their ability to do more and then they collapse.

    If anyone thinks I'm wrong, visit the burned out apartment building on Mt Pleasant St, now a complete multi-year failure. None of these plans have ever achieved long-term success in the United States.

  • CK

    ^^Oh dear lord.

    Anyway.

    Aaron, this seems like a critical component to this story: "Fortunately, as they encountered delays, the competing buyer was cooperative in extending the deadline."

    I'm under the impression that TOPA is not frequently used, contingent upon funding available from DHCD and the ability of tenants to successfully organize. Aaron, are there many other examples of TOPA successfully being used in the District? I, too, know of the multifamily building in Pleasant Park, but I'm not immediately aware of others, particularly recently. I suspect the program was much more widely implemented when funding was more flush closer to program inception, but maybe not so much recently, I'm curious to know how frequently and effectively tenants have been able to deploy this tool.

  • AS

    CK's questions regarding TOPA are largely addressed in this recent piece of research from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute: http://www.dcfpi.org/dcs-first-right-purchase-program-helps-to-preserve-affordable-housing-and-is-one-of-dcs-key-anti-displacement-tools .

  • http://jumpstartleadershiptraining.info/ Tom Wilson

    Northwesterner, you are wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels, it is difficult to no where to start.

    I am the president of the Tenants Associate (TA), and the person who initiated what has become the TOPA process, so I do have some grasp of the project. I actually worked as a consultant in the area of affordable housing as a consultant to community organizers like Barack Obama during Carter’s last year through the Community Services Administration. At the time that Reagan took over the government, the grass roots development programs (which were actually part of Nixon’s domestic agenda that Carter inherited and was making to work under the coordination of Stuart Eisenstadt) were beginning to get some real traction and part of the nascent economic recovery that Reagan inherited, which he promptly stalled with the collusion of the Republican Senate by ripping out all the programs that were working before beginning his deficit spending program in Defense.

    Your assertion that these programs never work is just crap. The 920-930-940 Randolf Street Tenants Association is 32 years old and was an important anchor for the renewal of that area just off 14th Street NW along the 1968 riot corridor. It is an example of how the community is a capitalist tool

    When I came back from Vietnam in 1971, I went to work for American Security Bank, where I provided staff support the Senior Loan Committee. I became aware that there were entire ZIP Coders that were red-listed and starved of credit because of their predominately African-American populations. Of course, none of the ZIP Codes west of Rock Creek Park where you and about 80% of the white population lived at that time, were red-listed unless you were a black person trying to get a commercial or real estate loan.

    As it turns out, this was part of a larger agenda to de-populate these areas of black folks in order to make the city available to white folks who coveted the marvelous properties all over the city. This program was know popularly as The Plan (or The Kennedy Plan, which had nothing to do with the Massachusetts Kennedy family; I don’t know where it came from) and has come to be known as “gentrification”. Although we considered gentrification to be a part of the continuum of housing from the Nixon-Carter agenda, it has generally translated to up-scale housing for younger carpet baggers who represent the core constituency of Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty. Along with land grab of the base realignment agenda of the Republican majority since 1995 in the District, these administrations have done as much as possible to accelerate the shift to the upper end of the economic scales.

    Fortunately, the Gray administration has once again committed the District to ensuring that the continuum of housing envisioned by the Nixon-Carter agendas is fulfilled. I have been involved with the Housing for All project of the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development in supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s commitment to earmarking $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund every year with the goal of eliminating homelessness by 2020. The monies for the 1919 Calvert Street/Mi Casa TOPA project will come out of this fund in FY 2014. As Aaron’s article explains, this is a capital investment which will benefit the tenants, the neighborhood and the city over the next 40 years. It is structured to avoid the perils you describe.

    Regarding the tenants, re-education is not a solution, the housing is. They are professionals in their own fields, providing you service in restaurants, by parking, recovering and safeguarding your car when you come downtown, by renovating your kitchen or bathroom or entire house, by providing support to the equine elements of the Park Police and by a variety of entrepreneurial services and internet marketing enterprises. They don’t need additional education, but, in an era when obscene corporate welfare allows CEOs to pay themselves 350 times the floor wage these individuals might earn in their employ, a little capital subsidy seems hardly an untoward burden for a vigorous and inclusive metropolitan area.

    It so happens I have a masters degree and I am probably the one who needs the support the most. Being 66, I have been unable to find a niche in either my field or in some likely enterprise. I became sufficiently disabled in my last employment at Union Station that I cannot return to that sort of heavy labor and my age doesn’t entirely suit the Starbucks brand. On the other hand, you can download my ebook, The Leadership Secrets of 5th Wave High Performance, if you are interested in escaping the 19th Century economic milieu you find yourself

    So, all in all, your complaints are largely without merit. Gleaning is an element of dynamical economics that allows synergies which might be otherwise lost to the system, to be recaptured and leveraged for the general welfare. The humble penny is one of those mechanisms. The TOPA process, and affordable housing, is another.

    Tom Wilson
    1919 Calvert Street Tenants Association

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