Tomorrow, newly bound-together residents of The Norwood will celebrate the six-year trek toward creating an affordable cooperative in Logan Circle.
The Norwood/1417 N Street Cooperative, through the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) process, assisted by the D.C. Office of Tenant Advocate and the Latino Economic Development Corporation, and financed by the Department of Housing and Community Development's First Right Purchase Assistance program, was able to purchase their 7-story, 84-unit building "The Norwood" for $9.3 million from Landmark Atlantic at the end of July.
Initially, the Norwood Tenants Association, led by co-presidents David Fabian and Silvia Salazar, banded together in October of 2005 over numerous housing condition concerns: black mold infestations, a malfunctioning elevator, unsafe stairways, and an "alarming" bedbug problem.
"We started out just trying to improve the conditions in the building," said Fabian, which turned into what he describes as an "incredible learning opportunity," resulting in the formation of a cooperative, direct negotiations with the landlord, and a building purchase.
Farah Fosse, LEDC's Director of Affordable Housing Preservation, explains that her organization was called in to help preserve affordable housing, improve poor housing conditions, and assist with the sale and conversion of the building.
In 2006, the owner was looking to convert the circa-1930s building to condos, but Norwood Tenant Association leadership knew it would ultimately force out many of the building's low to moderate-income renters; the association rejected the offer and demanded that the building be brought up to code before any conversion could be made (essentially buying time, while organizing plans to pursue the TOPA process).
When the owner slapped the tenants with rent increases, they simply refused to pay without any improvements having been made to their living conditions. Lawsuits ensued, and the issue was thrust into the open.
In May of 2007, the owner offered the tenants the opportunity to buy The Norwood at just over $12 million. Without a third party contract, without improved housing conditions and with the building's appraisal coming in at less than the owner's price point, the tenants didn't bite.
It took another four years to negotiate various lawsuits, to organize/educate the tenants, and to pursue financing. With the owner finally agreeing to shave nearly $3 million off the purchase price, on the grounds that he would not have to do a substantial overhaul of the dilapidated interior, the Co-op was able to close on its building quickly after receiving the DHCD loan early this summer.
Now, the newly formed Co-op Board is going through the process to convert the building. Fosse explained, "Soon [residents] will have the choice to buy into the Co-op." Part of LEDC's role prior to conversion was to make sure that those residents would be financially able to do that, so as to prevent any displacement.
The Board is also seeking private financing from banks in order to complete a full renovation of the 73-year-old art deco building sometime next year, said Fabian, with plans to incorporate a child care facility. Fosse said improving the living conditions at The Norwood is an ongoing issue; just this summer the number of inhabitants at the building skyrocketed – the unwelcome incomers part of a severe rat infestation.
The Norwood is now managed by EJF Real Estate Services, replacing Landmark Atlantic's Fleetwood Management (since reconfigured into a new company).
The Norwood is far from being alone. Elsewhere in D.C., Fosse says, "A huge number of buildings are going up for sale, and we're actually seeing pretty reasonable prices." The problem is, "Low-interest loans are hard to come by. There is not much money in the trust fund." LEDC is currently working with the tenants of nearly a dozen other buildings, in predominately Latino communities, with several located along the Georgia Ave corridor.
Washington D.C. real estate development news