For more than an hour, Doris Jones sat quietly in a corner of the classroom listening before she raised her hand to ask a question.
"I got this eviction notice a couple of weeks ago saying I have 90 days to move," she said. "What can I do if I haven't found a place I can afford by then?" she asked.
Several people in the group were able to tell her what her legal rights are and she was then directed to a lawyer who could help her for little or no money.
Jones was among more than 200 people who attended a free, day-long conference on housing sponsored by the Capitol East Coalition on Housing and Neighborhood Improvement. The meeting was held last weekend at Holy Comforter School, 15th and East Capitol streets SE.
The coalition, a non-profit organization created to advise the city's Department of Housing and Community Development on programs that affect the Capitol Hill area, organized the conference to bring together people who are trying to stay in the neighborhood and people who have access to information that can be shared, said David Fried, a conference organizer.
"The conference was designed to bring about a discussion of the problem of dislocation of moderate and low-income families, he said.
"We are also concerned that in the last six years, the racial composition of the neighborhood has changed from 85 percent black to 56 percent black. The studies indicate that black displacement is a problem," Fried said.
"We were trying to reach people who are being directly affected by the housing changing going on in the neighborhood," said Janet Gordon, chairman of the coalition.
"Most of the people who came to the conference were moderated-income blacks. Some of them were renters, homeowners and are the victims of market forces and speculation," Gordon said.
Gordon said that the conference sought to make people aware of their rights as they affect property taxes, rent control and other "rights to a viable environment."
The conference included six workshops dealing with property taxes, rehabilitation loan programs, economic development, public housing, community education, and rent control and evictions.
The panels were made up of citizens, lawyers, city council and school board members, representatives of community organizations, housing groups and officials from the District government.
The panel on rent control and evictions used three skits to dramatize some of the issues. Following the skits, a moderator told the audience what the existing laws are and advised them what procedures to use. The audience was allowed to ask questions of the panel members.
The issue of the closing of schools in the community education panel prompted a lively exchange in a standing-room-only classroom.
Barbara Lett Simmons said that the changing busing patterns which are affecting the population of the schools "suggest that some other uses have to be made of our schools.
"I'm suggesting that some of the under-utilized schools are a logical place to put some of the social services so that a person can make one stop rather than 45 in order to get the services they need," Simmons said.
Kirk Smith, one of the panelists in the rent control and evictions workshop, advised the audience to challenge landlords on evictions and rent raises.
"If you sit on your tails and don't challenge the landlords, they can get away with anything. If you're not sure what your rights are, ask the Coalition or Rental Accommodations office," he said.
At the end of the session, the panels were supposed to bring into a plenary session a series of resolutions passed by each panel.
But according to Gordon, many of the panel discussions got so long and involved that the resolutions weren't approved.
Gordon said that the steering committee of the coalition would consider the resolutions and decide which ones should be adopted and set a list of priority problems on which to work.