How a Northwest DC apartment building became a home and life-changing investment for 4 women

4 Northwest DC seniors
From left to right: Joanne Jenkins, Janice Washington, Earline Hendricks and Bettie Perry. (Courtesy Noelle-Kristine Spencer)

In 1971, Joanne Jenkins was a single mom looking for an apartment to raise her family in. She discovered a six-unit building in Northwest D.C., then signed a lease and moved in.

Jenkins soon became close friends with four other women who lived in the building.

Then in 1983, the five ladies were given the chance to buy the building for $75,000. The owner was required to give tenants an option to buy.

They decided to go for it.

“When it was first offered to us, we just thought we would buy it and just live in it,” Jenkins told WTOP. “But it was such a good investment. We had no idea that all of us would still be here to this day.”

With the help of a grant from the city and a nonprofit organization, they secured a loan. The four women are the only owners left. The original buyers’ group included Maud Patterson, who later died and Timothy Harmon, a Howard University student. Harmon moved away after graduation and sold his shares to the ladies.

Each of the women was a low-income earner and they never imagined they would own property in the district.

“It was a good location,” said Bettie Perry, who moved into the building in 1983. “It felt good. And then we didn’t have to move because we owned it.”

Jenkins said for the next 40 years they raised kids, maintained the building, vacationed together and became like sisters.

They paid off the mortgage in 10 years.

Gone were the days of balancing rent and bills. They rented out two of the units, becoming landlords and drawing on money-management skills learned years before.

“As a young child, my mother told us back in the days, ‘Whenever you start working, start saving,'” said Janice Washington, a 51-year resident. “She taught me how to save. I’m still a saver.”

But time has aged the building and the women.

“I’m 77 years old and I’m having a lot of medical problems, I want to get somewhere that’s comfortable for me,” said Jenkins. “And the bricks are deteriorating so much that when I sit in my living room, it’s so cold in there.”

They held a meeting and decided to sell. Their real estate agent, Noelle-Kristine Spencer of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, plans to list it next month.

It could fetch upward of $1.5 million, according to recent sales of nearby multifamily buildings in the Park View area, Spencer told WTOP.

Once the building sells, it could bring in a life-changing payday for the women.

“That’s right. We hit the jackpot,” said Perry.

Jenkins plans to buy a house with her niece, who also lives in the building. Perry and Earline Washington, who at 97 years old is the senior member of the group and moved in first, are looking for senior housing in the District.

Washington said she would stay if she were able to maintain the building.

“I have fallen down so many times,” she said. “But it doesn’t stop me from going up and down those steps.”

But Washington said she will miss the women who have become her sisters the most.

“I am going to miss them. I put that all out there,” Washington said. “This is my family here. I don’t want to see them go. If I could do it all over again, I would do it again.”

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