We are the tenants of the Norwood Apartments, a rent-controlled building. The Norwood is our home. Some of us have lived here as long as thirty years and raised our families here. We watched as the Norwood was stripped of its Art Deco ornamentation in the 1980s. And we have seen the rest of our seven-story building deteriorate since while rents continue to increase each year.
In January 2007, the Tenacity Group met with us to present us with their condo pitch offer which included a possible buyout. They said they would follow the condo conversion laws and would pay us between $5,000 – $15,000 thousand dollars per apartment to vacate our homes. They intended to convert the Norwood into condominiums.
At first, many of us considered leaving. We have lived with cockroaches, bed bugs, mold, mice, and an antiquated, frequently broken elevator for years. The opportunity to leave seemed a welcome opportunity.
Shortly before the buyout offer, we had formed a tenants’ association. Our association was a bit splintered at first. We came from a broad variety of nationalities and backgrounds. But together we sought redress from our landlord for the wretched condition into which the Norwood had fallen.
Membership in our tenants’ association grew after we received a condo pitch offer from the Teancity Group. We spent weeks debating the offer. It seemed weak; $5,000-$15,000 was a pittance in comparison to the millions of dollars in profits our landlord would make from the condo conversion. And it seemed a nominal amount for the work and expense involved in relocating our homes. Most importantly, we felt that turning over the building would be a reward to our landlord for years of intentional neglect. After much discussion, we decided to focus on fixing the problems in our building before any more conversations about condo conversion.
It seems foolish to hold on to housing in such poor condition as ours. But we have a larger vision: our goal is to preserve the Norwood as permanent affordable housing. After all, this is our community, and our hope is to divorce ourselves from our slumlord; create for ourselves the decent living conditions we have been denied, and create a supportive community within our neighborhood.
We have three consolidated lawsuits against our landlord in the DC Office of Administrative Hearings in response to his negligence. We have a second suit against him in Superior Court because he threatened our organizers with eviction, in clear violation of the 2006 Right to Organize Act. Currently, we are hoping our landlord will honor his offer to sell us the building under Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA).