Don't tell me where your priorities are.

Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.

-James W. Frick

Plan YOUR work! Work YOUR Plan!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Co-Op’s, Gentrification, and Lots of Walking

On July 11, 2011, I was invited to participate and cover the “Before and After Tour” of Affordable Housing Struggles in NW Neighborhoods hosted by the Tenant Advocates that introduced me to a lot of parts and programs of DC that I never knew existed. Two of the organizations involved were the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and Save Our Safety Net (S.O.S) – great organizations and even better people. The tour took us on a looooong walk around the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods of NW DC – areas I definitely am not familiar with past the Columbia Heights Metro Station (I have a really funny story about an incident at this particular station…but that will have to wait.) We saw two before buildings and two after buildings.


As someone with a background in Sociology, a passion for helping others, and a financial mindedness I was very excited for the opportunity to participate. I knew about the gentrification “issue” DC is currently having, but never thought about it from this specific aspect; from the view point of the effect of gentrification of DC’s many Latino residence. I know all about the effects on DC’s low income African American population because I am experiencing the push from DC. I live right across the street from part of DC and my neighborhood has changed a lot since I moved here in 2007. The neighborhood was quieter and, sadly, safer before the BIG push of moving the poor out and the, well, not poor in. As with any show of force, there was a ripple effect to surrounding areas in the Maryland and Virginia areas because those pushed out needed a place to live and so on… I guess since I see it from this side, I failed to even consider our partners in minority-dom.

Let me go ahead and be honest and admit I didn’t know much about Co-Op’s before I start talking about them, acting like I knew all about them. They kinda made me think of Hippies, for some reason.

But anyway….

I love Co-Op’s. From a financial aspect, as well as a Sociological aspect. I love them. The idea of a group of people coming together for a common cause and coexisting was great enough to make up for the loooong walk, ok it wasn’t THAT long but it was hot. But add in the people we are talking about. Minorities…coming together to take control of their own lives. Essentially that is what it is; they no longer have to be indebted to someone else, they own it….together. Also, its minorities financially coming together to own something. I love it all!

DC is the only place to have a law allowing the tenants to buy the building from either the owner or a Third Party. This is the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). Click here to read more about TOPA.

Click here to see the documentary We Own This! Documentary By LEDC

Each building in the tour had its own charming aspects…

Once I joined the tour, after the first building – a before building. The next building was cool for two reasons. The first reason is because the building was originally but by Abe Polin, who owned the Washington Wizards, for his family. The second reason is the beauty of the building, inside and out. The building is beautifully preserved actual original Art Décor. But in the inside of the building was an amazing story. The President of the Tenants Association is a woman named Lynn Welters and she has lived in that very building since the age of 11. She carries on a family tradition that began with her mother of presiding over the association. She knows every inch of that building form years spent playing in its halls and courtyards. And she’s not the only one with a long past living in the building. As a person who moved around a lot in life, I can’t imagine living in one place essentially my entire life. Amazing. Then there is the story building’s story that of its current condition intertwined with its rich past.

Currently, all that is beautiful about the building is almost canceled out by all that is ugly about the building. This building has aged as its residents have, but not as well. The roof leaks, pipes burst on a regular, the wiring is ridicules but then you walk in an apartment and see the original wood flooring and the original art deco design. The contrast is amazing. But the residents stay and fight to keep the building theirs despite the condition of the building. The conversations had a lot of “hopefully”, “possibly”, wish” –ing going on. But still they fight, to keep their home.

The third building on the tour was incredible because of one person, Oscar. Oscar is a very kind-hearted man, who holds doors open for women (those that know me know why that is an attribute I value highly as part of masculine/feminine interaction, it speaks to a respect for others), the kind of guy that will look at you with sincerity in his eyes and admit he needs help navigating the system….and the kind of guy that opens his home to you to discuss his situation – then offers you a water after. There aren’t many Oscars left in our society.

Oscar explained about the building and the process but the most compelling part was when he explained that the process and its many threats are more damaging for his family, especially his kids. He told of how convenient this building he had lived in for years was for he and his fellow residents. How his wife works at the school in the neighborhood and his children attend school there. He explained how the public transportation system is so important to the residents and the programs in the city so important, and that if they had to move they would have to leave DC because rent is so high. You could feel his heart aching. The sociology, the money, and the compassion in me wanted to all jump and do whatever I could to help. Writing this blog is the first step, the next step is to figure out how I can be helpful in something I have no idea about.

Oscar accompanied us to the fourth building, as it is an established Co-Op. The cool part about this building its associations' willingness to help someone who is in the same position many of its residents were in many years before. The two presidents do what presidents do, exchanged numbers and discussed logistics. And with that the tour was done. So, what had I learned?

1. Gentrification is "good" for those doing the gentrifying and bad for those receiving the gentrifying.
2. Co-Op’s are very cool conceptually and financially.
3. Kind people still exist.
4. People can still come together for a greater good.


This wasn’t the regular “personal finance” post that normally would be featured on this blog. But if you think about it, this whole piece was about personal finance…


Oh, and if your in DC this Saturday come out to the Tenant Town's kinda important...


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