“You can do anything if you put your mind to it . . . and you will succeed when you put your heart into it.”~Daniella Kessler
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Welcome to the first post on the Florian Gardens Cooperative blog. Veteran FGC members already know how the co-op evolved, but for newer members we’ve published a brief history of FGC or — depending on your perspective — you could call it a novice’s guide to home ownership.
Co-op members who follow this site will receive updated information about co-op activities; bragging rights, because you will learn some things that other members won’t; and you may even find some comic relief from the stress of everyday living.
Built in 1955, in Brightwood, a community of significant historic sites, the Florian Gardens Apartments were recognized then – and they still are — as a convenient and desirable place to live. But over three decades the property began to deteriorate, and in January 1988 the estate of Phillip Ershler put it up for sale. The estate’s law firm, Covington & Burling, surprised tenants with a letter notifying them of the pending sale.
I had moved my family to Florian Gardens in 1976 and was upset over the prospect of displacement from my home, and the possibility of having to leave the neighborhood that I was so fond of, so the day after receiving the letter I contacted the law firm to ask what could be done to prevent the sale.
An empathetic lawyer explained that under the District’s First-Right-of-Refusal laws, tenants had the first right to purchase the property. He also told me that “there is already a potential buyer interested in the site” and advised me that tenants should take action immediately if we were to save our homes.
I wasted no time phoning my friend and next door neighbor, Hazel Williams, who had lived there longer than I, and we agreed to try to persuade the other tenants that we should all unite and buy the property. With that commitment began an education in perseverance and determination for two women whose most ardent task to date was struggling to support our families.
At DCRA (the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs), Hazel and I were told that the first thing we needed to do was get the majority of tenants to sign a petition indicating their support for purchasing the property. Our door-to-door visit to every unit proved successful. Four months later, we formed a tenants association. Meanwhile, we both were using numerous hours of leave from our jobs in order to get paperwork processed and file countless documents required by the District government.
During that tedious period, frustration chased us with the ferocity of a pit bull. But one day we got a break when I heard Paul Battle of Project WISH on a radio program. He was discussing their organization’s tenant advocacy operation and its purpose: to guide tenants through the legal and financial process of purchasing their apartment buildings and owning their homes. Oh, happy day!
I contacted Paul through the radio station and Project WISH began spearheading our venture. A few tenants, doubtful that we would succeed, moved away, but thanks to the supportive residents who remained, and funding from the city and private agencies, in May 1989, we closed on the sale and began converting the Florian Gardens Apartments to the Florian Gardens Cooperative.
Tenant-in-place renovation of the property began in the fall of 1990. Although you appreciate the end product, anyone who has gone through the process knows that it is a nightmare.
In addition to added amenities, numerous improvements were made throughout the property. This included: new windows, bathroom and kitchen renovation with new appliances; electrical upgrade; new intercoms and mailboxes; secured lobby doors and awnings; indoor and outdoor carpeting; new heating and hot water furnaces; new roofs, landscaping, and a paved courtyard and parking area. Perks also included one additional unit, a laundry room and a social room The entire renovation process took 17 months. FGC held its Grand Opening ceremony on April 20, 1991, with then Ward 4 council member Charlene Drew Jarvis and numerous other city officials and invited guests in attendance.
For 23 years, our limited equity co-op (LEC) has thrived. We celebrated many anniversaries with annual cook-outs (see the picture on the About page) and at a couple of those cookouts we even had a live band provide entertainment.
In the spring of 2002, the CNHED (Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development) launched a study of the then 81 LECs created in the District during the preceding 25 years. FGC board members participated in the study and ours was among the co-ops listed in “stable or excellent condition” and providing “extraordinary affordable housing on a continuing basis.”
In August 2003, Hazel and I were featured in a story published in the DC North newspaper, about preservation of home ownership. In May 2011, FGC was included in a video documentary titled “We Own This” sponsored by LEDC (the Latino Economic Development Corporation.)
(Visit our site regularly for more about Florian Gardens Co-op.)