For the past decade the Shirley Duke Apartments in Alexandria have served as home to thousands of low-income families. Last week it was announced that the 132-building complex as well as the nearby Regina Apartments had been purchased by two area developers who plan to renovate the buildings and rent them to middle-income people.
The announcement means that about 500 families who still live at Shirley Duke must find new housing in the immediate future, a difficult task in the inflated Washington metropolitan area housing market.
Here are three brief profiles of Shirley Duke residents. Their stories provide a personal glimpse of poverty and tragedy in the midst of affluence.
Faced with the circumstances of 21-year-old Joanne Hinton, the last remnants of hope surely would have evaporated long ago for most people. But Hinton, a large woman with an effervescent personality, is nothing if not proud.
An unwed welfare mother who suffers from serious health problems, Hinton says she was taken away from her mother and a difficult home situation by a loving aunt at the age of 5. But she left her aunt's house in Dale City when she was 15 because she wanted to be on her own. Now that she may soon find herself without a home, she feels that she must once again show that she can take care of herself and her 3-year-old son Warren.
"That's one place I would never go," Hinton said, referring to her aunt's house and the fact that though her lease at Shirley Duke runs out at the end of the month, she has been unable to find another place to live. "I won't turn to her, and she knows I won't ask her to help. I'm going to try to do it on my own."
Hinton was in the hospital for two days again last week because of high blood pressure. 'It comes from worrying. See, I worry a lot. I worry before things happens, and that's my biggest problem. See, I don't have anyone but myself and my son."
Hinton, a native Washingtonian, also has asthma problems, and a portion of one lung was removed about a year ago. Her son has inherited her asthma condition. In the past she was worked for a maid service and for Shirley Duke, cleaning out empty apartments. But she can no longer do that because she tires too easily and her legs swell up, she says.
The driving force in her life today is the desire to provide the best possible life for her son. Right now she is doing it on $223 a month in aid to dependent children. Part of that pays her $155 a month rent. "I try to keep him fed and clean, and keep a roof over his head . . . I'm trying to get myself together."
But Hinton has another desire as well: to see her mother, whom she has not heard from since she was 14. "She don't even know I got any kids," said Hinton. An only child, Hinton never knew her father, and although the memories of her troubles with her mother remain vivid, Hinton seems to harbor no ill feelings.
"I want to find her, I want to see her. I don't hate her," she continued. "Whatever she's done to me, she's still my mother."
Hinton, despite her pregnancy, stayed in school and graduated from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria in 1975, where she enjoyed learning about computers, how she worries about other young girls who may make the same mistakes she did, and she would like to help them by urging that they finish their education and stay at home until they are sure they know what they want to do.