A band of elderly and disabled tenants fighting to save their Seattle, WA, apartment building brought their battle to Alexandria, VA, on a recent morning.
At stake is the future of the Theodora, a federally subsidized apartment building. The building is currently owned by the Volunteers of America (VOA), a national low-income housing provider based in the DC suburb of Alexandria; however, the organization plans to sell the property to a for-profit developer. Tenants, joined by housing advocates from the National Alliance of HUD Tenants rallied in front of the VOA headquarters on Tuesday, June 17, in hopes of keeping their apartments.
At the event, protesters hoisted signs and marched, chanting “V – O – A … We are here to stay!” The protest drew police attention, which resulted in the megaphone being prohibited.
The Theodora has been operating as a project-based Section 8 property for decades, but the 50-year mortgage, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), matures this year. The situation there is not unique. According to the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly one-third of the nation’s 1.4 million units of multifamily assisted housing stock may leave the affordable housing inventory because of owners opting out of the project-based Section 8 program, the maturation of assisted mortgages, or failure of the properties to meet HUD standards.
According to the VOA, costs of maintaining the aging Theodora apartment building have grown to levels that are unsustainable and the structure is now in poor condition.
Efforts to market the building to more than 70 other nonprofit low-income housing developers failed due to the condition and configuration of the building, the VOA’s communications director David Burch said. The property was then offered for sale to for-profit firms. One of those companies, Goodman Real Estate, has announced its intention to buy the building and plans to renovate the apartments for rental to lower-income working people earning between 65 to 85 percent of the area’s median income.
Housing in Washington State is costly, though less expensive than in the District of Columbia. In the state of Washington, the fair market rent, (the 40th percentile of gross rents for typical adequate housing as calculated by HUD) for a two-bedroom apartment is $970, compared with $1,469 in the District.
According to the Tenants Union of Washington State, the residents of the Theodora have until February 28, 2015 to move out. VOA told Seattle’s KOMO 4 news channel that tenants are being offered $8,000 to help them with relocation costs. It was also reported that even if the sale does not go through, VOA will be shutting the doors of the building early next year. Tenants are receiving assistance in finding new homes through relocation specialists, provided by Goodman Real Estate and VOA.
But Blackden Lee, a resident at the Theodora, said he was unsure where he would go when the February deadline arrives.
“There’s a real chance many of the residents will become homeless; many of them suffer from disabilities as well as mental problems,” said Lee.