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Nzinga Damali-Cathie and her fellow tenants are trying to buy their 12-unit apartment building in Deanwood. It’s a complicated feat, steeped in mounds of documents and legalese.
To confront the technicalities, the tenants have gotten an assist from Daniel del Pielago, an organizer with the Adams Morgan-based Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC). Together, the tenants and their adviser have formed an association, found a pro bono lawyer, and made an offer on their building. “They have walked us through the entire process,” says Damali-Cathie. “They came in and taped a big timeline to the wall of our building, just to let us know ‘This happens, then this happens.’ They’ve really been patient.”
On Sept. 10, however, the tenants received an urgent message from del Pielago: He might be getting fired. Earlier that week, the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) notified his boss at LEDC that it would be cutting funding in the next few months for tenant outreach.
Upon hearing the news, LEDC Executive Director Manny Hidalgo sent out an urgent letter to friends and supporters with the subject head “Loss of Funding for Affordable Housing Preservation!”
For the last few years, the LEDC tenant support program has received more than $200,000 annually from DHCD. Last year, the grant was for $238, 693—78 percent of the LEDC’s entire tenant assistance budget.Instead of renewing the funding on Oct. 1, as in previous years, DHCD was planning to solicit grant applications in a few months—and during the interim, groups would go it alone.
“Without an influx of new money,” wrote Hidalgo to backers, “We have to stop working with tenants at immediate risk of displacement,” not to mention cut “highly skilled staff who will be difficult to replace and whose loss will mean a serious setback to the program they have been building.”
Hidalgo wasn’t the only feeling the pressure. Hours before the LEDC letter circulated, Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services (HCS), also in Adams Morgan, typed out a similar missive. Her group’s Tenant Anti-Displacement Program was also losing funding due to “budget constraints that are affecting many city programs,” she wrote.
In her note, Siegel urged people to step up and volunteer their time and expertise to aid projects at 115 properties currently advised by her staff.
Reached early afternoon the following Monday, LEDC’s Hidalgo was still planning for the coming cash-starved months. He figured the depression would last until at least February.
“It costs us about $25,000 a month to run this program,” he says. “We’re counting on all our friends in the funding world—banks, foundations. We’re just appealing to everyone we know that appreciates the work we do.”
But DHCD director Leila Edmonds says the non-profits’ scramble wasn’t necessary.
“The two people that started letter-writing campaigns, both of them got in touch with me almost immediately after the program manager had spoken to them. I said ‘come in and talk—this was probably not communicated directly.’”Hidalgo’s meeting was scheduled for Wednesday Sept. 17, and Siegel’s occurred the previous Friday, he said.
Edmonds says that her department will be providing funding in the next few months for both groups while the grant application process is overhauled. Her message: “We do not want you to fire staff and take apart everything andleave people un-served, we just want to transition to a more clear and accountable system.”