Honoring Three Great Leaders

 

We wanted to take the time to honor three community leaders who passed away in 2013; Lucille Coutard, Edgardo Orellana, and Verna Collins. Each of these leaders brought their neighbors together to buy their apartment buildings in order to improve their living conditions. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), and acquisition financing from DC LISC families have been able to stay in their homes in the rapidly changing neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Brightwood in Northwest Washington, DC.

 

Lucille Coutard was the driving force in the renovation of the 1611 Park Road NW apartment building in Mount Pleasant. She organized the other tenants and created a tenant association, inviting interpreters to their meetings so her Hispanic and Vietnamese neighbors could have a voice in the process. In 2003, the association decided that their best course of action was to partner with Victory Housing¬†to buy and renovate the building on their behalf. After she and her neighbors regained control of the health and safety of their homes, Lucille continued her work as an advocate for affordable, healthy housing for others. Bonnie Thompson of Victory Housing explained Lucille’s tireless efforts as “she’s gotten her piece of the pie but she’s still working to help other people get theirs.”
Edgardo Orellana united the tenants of 1483 Florida Avenue NW to come together and buy their building in the early ’90s. He lived and worked in 1483 Florida Avenue as the janitor and when he heard the owner was interested in selling, he organized the other tenants so they could buy the building at a time when the Columbia Heights¬† neighborhood was filled with vacant buildings. After 20 years, the residents had paid off their loan to the city and decided they wanted to convert the building to condominiums so that the families could benefit from their accrued equity. Again, he gathered the tenants, to see if they could convert the building to condominiums. In 2012, the building was converted to the 1483 Florida Avenue Condominiums. Edgardo worked to ensure that all of the current residents would be able to continue living at 1483 once it was converted to condominiums. Ligia Pardo, another resident of 1483 remembered, “Edgardo was determined to help people who can’t fight for themselves. He was community oriented and loved working with people.” His wife and two children will be among the residents of 1483 that will benefit from his tireless efforts.
Verna Collins organized a diverse group of residents to form a tenant association at 5741 Colorado Ave NW in order to make repairs to their aging building and to push out drug dealers so that the residents didn’t have to live in fear. She organized and led the tenant association as they struggled for improved housing conditions and then worked to purchase their building. Farah Fosse of the Latino Economic Development Center recalled, “she was always out front and outspoken on tenant issues, not just for herself and her building but for tenants throughout DC. Ms. Collins was active in the Housing for All Campaign, attending trainings, speaking at rallies and meeting with elected officials. She was dedicated and passionate and was not afraid to demand the same from others.”

 

The work of DC LISC would not be possible without leaders throughout our city like Ms. Coutard, Mr. Orellana, and Ms. Collins. Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from their work is the principle of teamwork and collective responsibility.