Students from Georgetown University Law Center’s Harrison Institute for Housing and Community Development helped revitalize and reopen an affordable housing building in Washington, DC earlier this year.
The Sierra Cooperative, an affordable housing building in DC’s Eckington neighborhood, celebrated its grand opening this past January. Two and a half years ago, the building was scheduled for tax sale after long-neglect. At the time, only four of the building’s 20 units were occupied and the building suffered from a leaking roof, rotting wood, and mildew. The building has since been substantially renovated, and residents have purchased the property in accordance with the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA).
Initially tasked with averting the tax sale, the Harrison Institute later helped residents develop a financing proposal that was submitted to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Department of Housing and Community Development. These two organizations accepted the proposal and provided funds for the construction.
“The project at the Sierra is a great example of the important work that lawyers can do in low-income communities,” said Professor Michael Diamond, director of the Harrison Institute for Housing & Community Development clinic. “We especially commend the heroic efforts of the residents who fought to keep their home, despite the many obstacles in their path.”
Housing projects like the Sierra Cooperative are the key focus of the Harrison Institute, which provides legal counseling for low-income individuals and community groups. Students provide legal and nonlegal organizational support, represent tenants in financing and purchasing transactions, preserve affordable housing, and provide training and direct assistance for new business.
In addition to creating a positive impact in the community, the Institute provides Georgetown Law students with the opportunity to apply skills learned in the classroom to real challenges facing low-income communities. Students help facilitate the financing, purchasing, and rehabilitating single-family and multifamily housing, and they teach these skills to members of the community. They learn legal expertise and problem-solving skills in a real-world application that embodies the school’s commitment the common good.