The Washington Post
Tenants, Nonprofits Break New Ground
Nancy Copeland arose one morning three years ago to save her building, Galen Terrace, a community of Section 8 apartments in Southeast Washington that was falling apart.
A private developer was going to buy the building, and the tenants decided to exercise first right of refusal, a District law that allows tenants to organize and try to purchase the property themselves.
So Copeland started cooking string beans, potato salad, hamburgers, barbecued chicken and fried fish to raise money to save the building. Copeland, 63, had lived in the same apartment for 15 years, like many other tenants who cooked alongside her that day.
Despite the ceiling falling down on her in the bathroom, it was home.
“We stayed out there from 11 in the morning until 2 in the morning,” she said. “We made $700, and every month, we put in a little money.”
The tenants not only saved their building, they made history. Through several partnerships and a willingness to try something different, Galen Terrace has reopened as the first affordable-housing building that meets the District’s new “green building” standards.
The Galen Terrace Tenants Association teamed up with private developer Somerset Development Co. and NHT/Enterprise Preservation Corp. to renovate the building. NHT/Enterprise Preservation Corp. is a joint venture of the National Housing Trust and Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit organization that works to build green housing for low-income residents around the country. Enterprise Community Partners gave the partnership $4.6 million in tax credits. The tenants association and the partnership also received District and federal funding for the purchase and renovation of the apartments.
Galen Terrace is the first green building in the region completed with the help of Enterprise Community Partners, which plans to provide at least $4 million in loans and grants to help construct eight more environmentally friendly affordablehousing buildings in the area. Six will be in the District, one in Hyattsville and one in Arlington.
Enterprise has a five-year goal to build 8,500 green affordable housing units around the country, said David Bowers, director of Enterprise’s Washington office.
Although the Galen Terrace tenants returned from temporary housing in Oxon Hill to the 83 apartments late last month, the residents will celebrate the reopening today.
Galen Terrace joins just a halfdozen buildings to follow the District’s new environmental guidelines. The District became the first major city in the country to require green standards when the D.C. Council approved the law in December.
Under the law, most large residential and commercial construction projects have to meet the standards by 2012. That means using recycled materials, energy-saving appliances and low-flow showerheads.
For Galen Terrace, it has also meant a reflective coating on the roof, non-toxic paint, a heating and cooling system that improves air quality and other features.
The tenants association owns 15 percent of the building and receives 15 percent of net revenues from rents, said Jessica A. Haynes-Franklin, who works for Somerset Development and served as the owners’ representative during the construction of Galen Terrace.
“For the most part, people love their apartments because they’re so nice,” she said. “The fact that they are breathing healthier air is not something we’ve gone in-depth with.”
Copeland showed off her apartment as two of her great-grandchildren played on the floor of her living room. She pointed out her new appliances in the kitchen and was especially proud of her bathroom.
“A new tub,” she said. “I can relax without having something fall down on my head.” She did not mention the low-flow showerhead and toilet.
But Bowers, director of Enterprise’s Washington office, said recognition of the energy-saving features by the tenants would come in time.
Enterprise is developing a manual on the green features for residents. “It’s not just about building something green. There’s an empowerment angle,” he said. “This is going to be a model.”