The tenants tried to prevent an eviction. Now they could own the building

She is still worried about the precariousness of her housing because she cannot work and receives public assistance for her disability; she and her son suffer from chronic asthma. “It was frustrating, it was an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “I thank God I’m still here, there are days when I feel like, how long can I stay in this apartment?”

Ms Concepcion, 50, felt helpless, but tenants with low-paying jobs and those like her who depended on public assistance were the group’s greatest strength. The group would not have qualified for the free legal aid that was essential to their victory, said Mr Hankins, 51, who was unemployed when Mr Giddings first acquired the building and was one of the tenants whose income was quite low. to get help. He is now a housing advocate for people experiencing homelessness.

But Mr Hankins initially doubted the group would go very far, and he was in disbelief when Mr Stone, who works in banking, suggested they buy the building, after he and Ms Waterton attended a conference on gentrification with a session on home ownership. in March 2017. “We looked at it like it had two heads,” Mr Hankins said, recalling how he and other tenants had dismissed the idea.

Although incomes varied among the tenants, most of them are black and Latino and they shared an understanding of the long history of redlining and disenfranchisement in black communities. The property was elusive and unimaginable. “We’re almost conditioned not to see the big picture, not to believe the big picture, like ownership isn’t for us,” Mr Hankins said, sitting in his fifth-floor apartment a recent afternoon in March, surrounded by the records and recording equipment he uses to produce hip hop. “We’re not used to being in a position of empowerment.”

Ms. Waterton tapped into another story: An immigrant from Guyana, she moved with her family to an apartment building in Brooklyn that her grandfather owned and served as a staging post for other relatives. “It was a haven for us,” she said. “When all of this happened, that we could buy the building, I was like, ‘Oh my God, come full circle. “”

In 2019, Ms. Burnham introduced tenants to the Urban Property Assistance Commissiona non-profit organization that supports HDFCs and also helps to convert them.

After UHAB explained how home ownership was possible, “We will win” became something of a mantra for tenants. Some paid for supplies, such as computer software for project management, printing and postage, and food and drink for meetings. Ms Waterton said she had given up on weekends with friends and family parties.

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