The Martin Luther King, Jr. Latino Coop is located on 11th Street, NW in DC's Shaw neighborhood. With ONE DC's help, the tenants purchased the building in 2006 with a $7.8 million loan from the Department of Housing and Community Development as permanently affordable housing. The partnership between ONE DC and the coop was ONE DC's first tenant-organizing effort in a building where the first language of 97% of the residents is Spanish or one of the many Native American languages spoken in Central America and Mexico.
Because coop members are the collective owners of the building, they control the building to keep housing affordable and to create a building policies based on people's shared needs - not individual greed. "This is an important thing for people who are poor," says Ramon Garcia, a founding coop member.
Abelina Lopez is another of the coop's founders and the first woman to serve as a director. Membership in the coop gives Abelina and her neighbors increased self-determination over their community. Since buying the building, security and maintenance have improved, housing costs have decreased rather than increasing over the $100 per year that was the norm prior to forming the coop, and a greater sense of community has been honed. When asked why she values coops, Abelina responds, "I don't like to hoard things. I wouldn't want someone to deny one of my sons something to eat. It's not right to hoard things people need to survive."
Cooperative housing exemplifies ONE DC's value that the things we need for survival - like food, water, healthcare, and housing - should be shared equitably by all, and not used solely for profit-making. This contrasts the system under which we live now, in which empty half-million dollar condos continue to be peddled to the ultra-rich as not only housing, but "investments" while people with below poverty level incomes cannot even find a decent room to rent.
This courageous and visionary group of working class immigrants from Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador have found a way to stay in the city as housing costs continued to rise. By organizing with your neighbors, and choosing affordability and the community's collective well-being over profit, tenants can collectively buy their building - making it into an affordable and healthy place to live, and showing others that there are alternatives to gentrification and displacement.