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 tradegy in the midst of affluence.
Until he had to undergo three operations for terminal lung cancer last month, 61-year-old Howard Ray was a confident man. Today, Ray see himself at bay, unable to help himself and fearful for the future of his four school-age children.
The price his family must pay for food stamps has more than doubled - to $106 - during the last three months. In addition, the $311 Ray received in Medicaid payments was cut off because he is also receiving more than $400 in disability compensation. And soon Ray and his wife Anna and their four children, ranging in age from 6 to 12, will have to find a new place to live.He believes their prospects are not good.
"I don't feel so bad myself," Ray said, his voice a monotone. "But it's the children, because they're small and they don't know anything of what its about. It's a burden on those children, I tell you."
Ray says he has looked in about 20 buildings for a new apartment, but he said that he cannot afford a three-bedroom apartment and that most buildings won't let him live in a two-bedroom unit with four kids and a wife. Ray is currently paying $265 for three bedrooms at Shirley Duke.
A native of Culpeper, Va., Ray came to Washington with his family when he was a small child and attended Armstrong High School in the District until his sophomore year. He worked as a gardener and building engineer for 22 years. "When I was working," he says, "I had it made."
But that optimism has since vanished. "I consider myself to have been very, very lucky in my younger days," Ray said. "But after I got old it looked like the world had collapsed and I couldn't get out from under it. I got smothered. I can't accomplish nothing. I can't make no headway."
Ray spoke slowly but intently while his wife listened. The two have already raised three older children, all of whom have since moved away from home.
"I know I'm not the type of man I used to be . . . I try to do the best I can but that don't seem to be enough - don't seem to be enough." There was a long pause. Then he began again. "If I can just find another place, three or four bedroom, I will be happy."