From Renters to Owners by Rebecca Kern
Norwood Cooperative’s Silvia Salazar, second from right, sits among
young residents, from left, Edwin Marcelo, Nizar Ghoumari, Alex Lopez
and Anai Marcelo.) |
Silvia Salazar didn’t expect tenant organizing to change her life. She just wanted to rid her decaying apartment complex of bedbugs, black mold and rats. The 36-year-old ended up empowering her neighbors to advocate for themselves and, ultimately, become proud owners of their own building.
For years, Salazar’s calls and letters to the management company of her 1930s-era Logan Circle building went unanswered. In October 2005, she decided to take action. She met with a handful of renters in the laundry room to discuss their home’s flaws.
Over the next six years, the group formed a tenant association and waged a legal battle to purchase their seven-story, 84-unit building, now the Norwood Cooperative (1417 N St. NW). Salazar and her neighbors were able to buy their homes because of D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or TOPA.
The hardest part of the TOPA process, says Salazar, now co-president of Norwood’s cooperative board, was persuading the tenants to organize. Even communication was a hurdle in a building whose residents speak English, Spanish, a native Guatemalan dialect and Arabic.
By purchasing the building in July 2011, she says, Norwood helped preserve affordable housing in a neighborhood where luxury apartments are becoming the norm.
“When a building goes up for sale in D.C., there’s a risk and an opportunity,” says Farah Fossé of the Latino Economic Development Center, who helps tenants through the TOPA process. “If tenants do nothing, the new owner could try to get rid of affordability.”
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