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Holdout: 3329 18th St. NW

Willy Toribio bought the house at 3329 18th St. NW in 1963 for $19,000. Today, the property could fetch more than $500,000. Profits of that magnitude fueled D.C.’s recent real-estate boom. Toribio, however, explains why cashing in on the market doesn’t particularly interest him.

This was the first house in America for me—I’m from Lima, Peru. I came here 18 and single. Then I got married and my wife became pregnant. I worked as a busboy, making 95 cents an hour. She made 55 cents an hour as a maid. We needed to move to have more space for the baby, and I wanted to buy a house, but no one would sell to me because I was Spanish-speaking and had no credit.

Then I saw a sign up here: “For Sale.” The down payment with closing costs was $2,400. I had saved $5,000, so I told them, “I have the money.” They looked surprised, but 20 days later I moved in. I moved here in 1963 and lived here for 15 years.

I helped a lot of people in this house. I let a few guys live in the garage, and in the winter, when it got too cold, I let them live in the basement. Some were on drugs; some were drunks—all completely homeless. My wife said, “Why do you help these people?” I said, “Am I going to let the police get them? No. This isn’t their country—they need help.”

I gave them food, hot tea. There were seven, eight, 10 of them at one time. I’d tell them not to make noise because of the baby. They would say, “OK, Willy. No problem.” They were nice to me. They’re all dead now….Because of their memory, I keep this house.

I bought [this house] for $19,000. I painted it, everything. The basement was full of rats. I learned painting, how to fix things. This house was in bad shape then, and so was the neighborhood. I was held up twice—in ’64 and ’66. This neighborhood is changing.

I have two jobs—I’m a paint contractor and a bartender at the [Rockville] Woodmont Country Club. I have a house at Georgia and Warder—three bedrooms and a basement apartment. I charge $1,200 a month. I bought that house in ’91 for $96,000. Now it’s [assessed at $135,070]. I own five homes—I rent four and live in one. The members at the club say, “Willy! You’re in the neighborhood now.”

I came into this country with $5 at 18. I worked at Woodmont and went to school to learn English. When immigrants come here, they want you to give a deposit, a credit card. Some don’t have that, so they won’t give them an apartment, a phone. I give them a place to live. There is one family in this house—from El Salvador—they’re very nice. I charge them a very low rent—below market. I come and eat with them, play with their kids, give them advice. I will never sell this house. CP