Archive for January, 2014

Give me shelter
January 31, 2014

When I moved to our nation’s capital a year and a half ago my friends took me apartment hunting and we wrote down at least 40 phone numbers of apartment building managers. I ended up moving into the first apartment building I called. My decision to call that one first was based on some chipped paint around the entry door, which led me to think I could afford to live there. I was right. At $1150 a month for a roughly 300 square foot room with a refrigerator in the middle of it, but a spacious bathroom and two small closets I never found a price near it. It’s on a street where you can come home at any hour of the night without looking over your shoulder. It’s across from the National Zoo. The next spring when I got tired of the uninterrupted sobbing of children in strollers leaving the zoo that began every weekend afternoon, I discovered that my apartment was not only the cheapest but the largest within a few hundred dollars. So when I came home one day last summer to find a flyer saying the building was up for sail I worried.

Fortunately, I learned tenants in Washington have the right to organize, make the first bid on their building if they wish, and if not, select a buyer from those who meet the asking price. Did we want a roof deck? Card operated machines in the laundry room? A gym? A swimming pool? All possibilities, all up to us, talk had it. More promising, we could require the landlord to promise not to raise the rent, and we also could get money to move out. “AH-ffensive” was the dismissal of an pre-emptive offer from one developer to give each one of us $5000.

We had meetings. Four developers expressed interest in buying and sent spreadsheets showing their willingness to meet our demands. Their presentations were scheduled for two long meetings, which didn’t turn out to be as long as planned because two dropped out. So then there were two.

The first one was an experienced developer who had been filling our mailroom for the last year with glossy postcards showing how the company had renovated a pre-war building to make it look like someone in the outer boroughs of New York had just hit it big on a scratch off lottery card. The entire staff of the company turned out, filled our lobby with black wooden folding chairs, a dozen boxes of pizza, a screen, a projecter and themselves, all wearing buttons saying “Ask Me Anything.” A guy who introduced himself as “the Principal” of the company started with a laughing like noise and said: “It’s funny I’ve done so many of these, and I still get nervous.” I took notes, which included, as he began by telling us that he met his wife at George Washington University, that they now have three kids, and what each of his kids are doing:

. who cares about his wife, or what his kids are doing it is 7:13 p.m., or where he lives . . .
they are all saying I also wear many hats
first one just said he wears “hopefully one hat”
This one says “we’re the promise keepers . ..”
One of the employees is quite ill and is still standing there by the door looking miserable…
They all are standing behind a sign that says:
Top 10 things We love about your building
1. We love the residents
2. We love the residents who get up and go jogging
3. We love the residents who work from home
4. We love the residents who do the laundry
5. We love the residents who have cereal for dinner
6. We love the residents who go to Starbucks every day
7. We love the residents who come home every night
8. WE love the residents who take the elevator
9. We love the residents who take the stairs
10. We love the residents who read the paper

They described gutting the building in the months that would follow and then making it look like the ones on the postcards, pictures of which in before and after double screens in which After consistently looked exponentially uglier than before rotated on the screen. The screen also showed pictures of big greasy boxes of flourescent frosting donuts, which they promised to provide in the lobby on a monthly basis. And if all that didn’t tempt anyone to stay, they would provide, not the Ah-fensive compensation of $5,000 to move out — but $1,000. In other words, not enough to pay the moving costs if you didn’t want to live in a construction site for donuts.

The remaining developer was more promising. Only five staff members showed up, didn’t talk about their families or donuts, and started the compensation for moving out at a five digit figure. They won the election we held the next week by a landslide. Then they said they couldn’t make the down payment on the agreed schedule. Then our lawyer went back to the donut developer. I dreamed that I was following the ones who let us down through their office shouting at them. Then the donut developer said he didn’t really have the full asking price. The lawyer asked him how come, then, he offered to buy the place, and according to the lawyer, he responded, “I got horny.”

If you don’t count the psychic damage of having to hear that, everything finally worked out. The ones we chose got an extension to come up with the money. I learned that at a meeting last night after which I went down to meet a visiting friend at the Zoo bar. I was recounting all of that and my hopes that the 5-digit buyout payment can serve as a down payment somewhere, when we were distracted by the flashing lights of an ambulance pulling up in front of the bus stop across the street. They were coming to get the guy who lived there, a bar patron monitoring the situation from the doorway said. First the shelter bus had come around because its been about 10 degrees at night for the last week, but upon evaluation they called the ambulance.

Left all his stuff there. Didn’t offer him donuts, buyout money, nothing. Just a place to go out of the cold.