ULS in the News: 40 Years Ago, Four DC Tenants Bought Their Building and They've Been Successfully Managing It Ever Since

November 30, 2023

Last month, the Washington Post featured the wonderful story of four women who, 40 years ago, worked together to buy their building from their landlord. The four long-time DC residents collaborated with ULS’ Tenant Purchase Program to exercise their rights under DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). TOPA requires that landlords give their tenants a chance to purchase their building before attempting to sell it. The program aims to prevent the all-too-frequent displacement of Black and brown Washingtonians from their communities.

The four women – Earlie Hendricks, Joanne Jenkins, Bettie Perry, and Janice Washington – purchased their building for $75,000 in 1983 while each making below $15,000 a year. They could not afford an attorney, which led them to ULS. Our staff at the time accomplished two important goals that led to the purchase. First, they got the City to contribute $46,780 to the purchase in the form of a loan that would only have to be repaid if the building was resold within five years. Second, ULS secured another $50,000 loan from the City for the building’s rehabilitation, which could be paid at a 3 percent interest rate in 20 years.

In the 40 years that followed, the four women worked hard to manage their building. This is no easy feat. The women had to oversee regular maintenance work, communicate with government offices to get checks and paperwork signed, fill vacant apartments, and more. Despite their difficulty, these long-going efforts also led the women to form a tight-knit community in their building. In an interview with the Washington Post, Washington shared: “We have been a family. There’s nothing we haven’t done together.” And now, the group collectively decided to sell their building and finally reap the benefits of their hard work. In fact, similar buildings in the women’s neighborhood have been selling for over $1 million.

ULS Executive Director Jane Brown recognizes this story as a “great success.” As the article puts it, “In a city that has seen many Black and low-income residents pushed out by housing costs and rising rents, the four African American women long ago claimed a piece of the city, and they held on.” ULS is proud to have played a role in this powerful story and commends Hendricks, Jenkins, Perry, and Washington for their outstanding accomplishments.  

ULS’ Tenant Purchase Program continues today with the work of its Program Manager, Andrew Martin. Rather than assisting tenants with purchasing their buildings, ULS is now focused on providing asset management services to existing tenant cooperatives (like the one in this case) that already own their buildings. To learn more about what led to this change and our present work with DC tenants, you can read our feature on Andrew and his work here.  

A newspaper clipping from the year of the women’s purchase of the property shows the four of them standing in front of a brick building. From left to right, Maude Patterson, Earlie Hendricks, Janice Washington, and Joanne Jenkins stand smiling while wearing winter coats. Earlie Hendricks is holding a white dog who is also wearing a winter coat.

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