- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

A victory for the residents of Meridian Manor in Columbia Heights turned out to be a victory for the District, too.

While D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other city officials talk out about the need for more affordable housing in the District, a consortium of nonprofit and government groups completed the redevelopment of Meridian Manor, a 34-unit apartment complex on Chapin Street, just west of the Columbia Heights commercial area. The building is home almost exclusively to low-income Latino families, many with single mothers.

The process of redeveloping Meridian Manor was long.

Tenants won ownership of the building in 1995 after a lengthy court battle with a slumlord. But they were unprepared for the struggles of maintaining the property, and it became one of the most distressed buildings in the District.

It was not until 2000 that a group of tenants sought the help of nonprofit developers Mi Casa Inc. and the National Housing Trust and Enterprise Preservation Corp. to serve as co-owners of the building, which in turn sought the help of nonprofit groups to fund a redevelopment.

The D.C. Housing Finance Agency funded $2.4 million in HUD bonds, which mortgage buyer Fannie Mae bought. The HFA also allocated about $1.2 million in low-income tax credits. A grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development rounded out the funding.

Though most of the original residents have moved, a few stayed, including LeRoy Washington, who helped spearhead efforts to take over ownership of the property more than a decade ago.

Mr. Washington was honored Tuesday at a ceremony in front of Meridian Manor, and officials unveiled a memorial plaque to honor his son, Charles, who died in the Vietnam War.

“Remarkably, over the last decade this group of people stayed together,” said Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust and Enterprise Preservation Corp. “They made sure the building would be preserved.”

Preserving existing buildings is part of the District’s plan to create new homes. Mr. Williams has said he wants to attract 100,000 new residents to the city in the next 10 years. About 30,000 homes are under construction or planned.

“Meridian Manor is just one of the projects that is coming down the pipeline and coming into fruition,” Mr. Williams said Tuesday.

People involved in the Meridian Manor transaction said they were relieved to have completed the project, because Chapin Street already has at least two new complexes featuring market-rate apartments and condominiums.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward One Democrat, praised the re-opening of Meridian Manor because it provides housing to people with lower incomes at a time when developers are far more motivated to build homes at market prices.

“It’s one thing to create affordable housing in a regular real estate market,” Mr. Graham said. “It is quite another to create affordable housing when the market is red hot.”

The Meridian Manor apartments will remain rentals for the next 15 years, and then residents may have the option to buy. Most tenants currently pay about $1,000 per month.

In other news …

• Real estate contributed about $685 million in tax revenue and an additional $485 million in economic activity to Montgomery County last year, area real estate agents reported. The Greater Capital Association of Realtors and the Maryland Association of Realtors said new residential properties alone contributed $25 million to the economy in 2002.

Property Lines runs Fridays. Tim Lemke can be reached at tlemke@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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