One of the reasons for Del Ray's facelift is that for the past year part of the neighborhood has been a conservation district, entitling some homeowners to qualify for low-interest or no-interest loans to fix their homes.

"The trend now is to set up conservation districts, as opposed to redevelopment, where you tear down things," said Pete Holt of Alexandria's Community Development Block Grant Office. "You take a neighborhood that is in bad shape, but doesn't warrant absolute clearance and tearing down yet is blighted and deterioriating."

Isable Adkins, of 2305 Burke Ave., was one of the homeowners who received a no-interest loan. Mrs. Adkins has lived in her two-bedroom home for 14 years. Hers was the first black family in the neighborhood, she said.

"When I first moved in, they tried to get me out, but I didn't have nowhere else to go and I was going to say," Mrs. Adkins said. Some of the white neighbors - children and adults - tossed rocks in her windows, garbage in her yard, and "told my children to go back where they belonged," she recalled.

"But everything's fine now." Mrs. Adkins said, eyeing corn flakes and milk at her dining table. "Look at him. He's just like one of the family."

Mrs. Adkins' home was one in which the basement steps were rooten and threatening to collapse at any moment; it would blow a fuse if the refrigerator, lights clocks and the record player were all turned on; she was so afraid that her furance would cause a fire that on the few cold winter nights when she turned it on - she had to light it with a burning piece of paper - she sat up all night watching it.

"I'd always say I was going to fex it up, but it cost so much," she explained. She recently applied for a loan at a bank, but was told she didn't have enough income and was rejected.

She then inquired about Alexandria's subsidized housing and heard about the home improvement program in her neighborhood.

Now, with the help of 5,500 no-interest loan, Mrs. Adkins has new roofing, new storm windows and doors, new gutters, a remodeled kitchen, air conditioning and a new furnace, new basement steps a laundry tub, and better electrical wiring.

"I'm just now beginning to get it nice," said Mrs. Adkins, 58. "This is the nicest I've ever had it."

Kevin Rainey, a financial counselor with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said that about 35 homeowners currently are in the home improvement program, some of them getting help "with 6 per cent interest loans. Community Develop- ment Block Grant Funds are used and loans are obtained through two Alexandria banks that agreed to participate in the program.

"We knew Del Ray was an area that would show the repairs. It was an area that we knew we'd make an impact on." If some of the people had a hole in the floor, they'd tend to walk around it." Rainey said. "It's given the whole area some identity, an area that thought it was forgotten because it's outside Old Town."

The housing authority has condemned some homes in Del Ray an has warned the owners of some vacant warned the owners of some vacant and boarded property that they must fix up their holdings.

Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harman calls Del Ray "one of the most critical area in Alexandria." He said he is concerned that whichever way Del Ray goes. "It will have an impact. It's a large area in the center of the city and it's important for it to be stabilized."

Harman credited strong civic and business associations with helping to make the neighbors change in a positive way.

"I have a great deal of optimism about Del Ray," he said.