Updated: Sep 6
Dubbed “the Godmother of DC Housing Cooperatives” Linda Leaks’ organizing of tenants for housing justice and housing cooperatives is legendary in the DC community. Leaks often worked seven days a week, on an organizer’s pay.
When Leaks moved to DC in 1978, gentrification was in brutal full force, which presented conditions that were a great match for Leaks’ expertise and 10 years of experience as a community organizer in Florida. She enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia, and later earned her master’s degree in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University.
In 1982, Leaks led the founding of a collective house in Northwest DC with three other black women. Known as the “T Street Collective,” it became a hub of black feminist organizing in a depressed neighborhood still dotted with boarded up buildings and with hardly any businesses.
In 1986, she got her first job as a tenant organizer with Washington Inner-city Self Help (WISH), whose mission was, in part, to help organize tenants to form limited equity housing co-ops to maintain their homes. Over the next decades, Leaks led battles to convert dozens of apartment buildings into housing cooperatives in DC, coaching frightened tenants on how to manage cooperatives, protest, advocate and otherwise overcome city officials, landlords, and developers intent on pushing people out in favor of luxury high-rent housing. As Leaks worked to secure co-op ownership for tenants, she developed educational materials and trainings uniquely designed to help renters transition to owners.
Leaks later became Executive Director of WISH, where she also attempted to build complementary cooperative businesses such as a management cooperative for the housing co-ops and janitorial services to service those cooperatives. Leaks even took her organizing skills to South Africa, where she helped organize in the early 1990s the first housing cooperatives in Johannesburg.