This Saturday, October 29th at 12:30 pm, the residents of 1417 N St NW (the Norwood) will celebrate the grand opening of their housing cooperative in Logan Circle. Six years ago, residents united to form a tenant association. Their struggle involved suing the owner for poor housing conditions, defeating a condominium conversion proposal, and ultimately led to the purchase of their building and the creation of DC’s newest affordable cooperative. Click here for more information on tomorrow’s grand opening and read below their inspiring success story first posted in July.
In 2006, a condominium developer walked into 1417 N Street NW to explain to residents living in the Norwood apartment building in Logan Circle how their rental housing – mired by deteriorating living conditions – could be converted into a pristine, high-rise condominium.
The Norwood Tenants Association, comprised of residents of diverse backgrounds and income levels, was ready to listen. But they had their own plan.
“We knew from talking to tenants and looking at our options that a condo was probably not what we wanted because most of the people in the building wouldn’t be able to participate,” recalls David Fabian, co-president of the tenant association. “We really hunkered down and said, ‘We’ll let them speak, but we’re going to prepare ourselves to present our case for what we want.’”
What the tenants said that night was simple: Fix the housing code violations now, and then we’ll talk. Years later, as the tenant association stands on the verge of buying the building, suffice it to say that a condominium never went up at 1417 N St NW.
By sharing their struggles, aspirations, and talents while working with the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) to organize and understand their legal rights and housing options, the individual members of the association transformed their respective desires for better living conditions into the latest example of how DC residents are effectively working together to keep their housing affordable.
“When we set up our tenant association, we didn’t quite have it in our minds that we would now have the opportunity to own the building,” David says. “We had it in our minds that we would make things better, no matter how long it took.”
Since 2006, LEDC has made a long-term commitment to the success of the tenant association. Tenant organizers intensely worked to leverage the creativity and energy of its members, organizing residents and educating the tenants about the condominium conversion proposal, improving housing conditions, as well as the key steps to take to prepare for the purchase of the building.
For Silvia Romero, who moved into the building nine years ago and kept largely to herself, a frightful fall down a flight of poorly maintained stairs motivated her in part to join the association and cultivate a unified voice among the tenants.
“I’ve learned you have to have a lot of patience – to continue forward and not fall back,” Silvia says. “There were a few days that were really difficult, but I said, ‘No, this has started, and I can’t stop and I have to keep going.’ This isn’t about a couple of days, or a couple of months, this is about years of work.”
The six-year journey has taken them far beyond the confines of their 84-unit building into communities across the District. Their first community event taught people about fire safety. Committed to bed bugs control – a problem that had plagued their building for some time – the tenant association participated in Bed Bugs forums in the District and on Capitol Hill. Silvia Salazar, co-president of the tenant association, facilitated short workshops with LEDC to help other DC residents understand their rights when landlords wanted to convert their affordable housing into condominiums given her first-hand experience.
Over time, the tenant association thrived through their understanding that inviting people to participate meant recognizing how people could contribute in their own ways. After a community event held in a nearby church, Salazar discovered the hidden talents of her neighbors that fed a growing connection to move the association forward and to draw upon during the hard times – one loved to cook, another played cumbia music, while another was a Mayan weaver.
“I feel much stronger now than I did before – more will to continue forward,” says Silvia Romero. “I’ve always had it, but now, ‘Wow,’ I never thought we could do this. We never lost the faith.”