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