Sheila Harris, a 34-year-old mother of four, is among 7,580 Distric low income residents waiting for housing, according to District housing officials.
Although Harris is now considered first on the list for a four-bedroom apartment, she may still have a long wait because they rarely become available, according to housing officials.
These officials say other low income residents on the housing list are in store for a long wait because only 81 rental units owned by National Capitol Housing could possibly become available in the next 30 days.
In the meantime, Harris - along with 17 other family members who now live with her - resides in a dilapidated, red-brick row house. The house has 108 housing code violations, District housing records show.
Amid the falling plaster, the wobbly floors and the leaky pipes, Harris complained, "I hate this place. I feel crowded and the owner has not made any repairs.
"I can't wait to get out of this crowded situation. We are sleeping on top of each other," according to Harris, who said she hopes to get a job with the Post Office.
Harris has lived at 2556 University Place for the last 10 years with grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, sons, daughters. "We just can't find any place else that we can afford."
She said the family has missed the $179 monthly rent payment only once. That was three months ago when they decided not to pay rent until some building repairs were made.
"We've been spending our own money on this place making repairs - we aren't going to do it anymore," said Anne Davis, 74, a partially blind grandmother who has lived in the house more than 10 years.
As she spoke, 8-month-old Shantee Parker slept in a crib near a wall of falling plaster. "It just isn't fair," said Davis.
The owner of the Upper Cardoza home, D.C. police Sgt. Willie L. Lofton, told a reporter, "I don't want you to make me out to be a Frankenstein." Lofton said he was not planning to make repairs in the two-story building until he moved in.
Lofton, who bought the row house in 1974, said he and his property manager, Arnold Realty Co., filed suit to evict Harris and other residents of the University Place address because he believed he had to get them out to make required repairs.
"When I bought the place, I was told there had been people living in the home a number of years and I decided it would be all right for them to stay until I was ready to move in. But there has been continued damage to the place and I think it is time that I get them out to make the repairs."
Harris and other tenants complained that repairs have not been made for several years. Lofton, on the other hand, said he has made minor repairs in the past, but they have been vandalized by the tenants.
It doesn't really matter who is correct, according to Bernard Jones, a District supervisor of housing inspectors. "Landlords are responsible for making the corrections. We don't decide if it is right or wrong. . . . If there is a problem with tenants, it is the responsibility of the landlord to remove them."
Jones said his department is about to recommend that the city hire contractors to repair the aging row house and then place a lien against the property because Lofton has refused to correct the housing code violations. Jones said housing officials gave Lofton 90 days back in February to make the corrections on the 108 violations but they have not been repaired.
According to housing officials who are trying to relocate the Harris family, their story is a saga of people who can not afford to live in the District at current housing prices.
"There are many other families in the District living in bad, overcrowded housing conditions," according to Welvin Goodwin, acting chief director of the District' property management administration.
Many problems do not come to the attention of housing officials because tennants do not want to give up their low cost housing, according to Goodwin, who said he did not have figures for the number of District people currently in overcrowded situations.
"We only get involved if the people themselves call or friends or neighbors get concerned," said Goodwin.
TVivian Tapscott, a tenant selection supervisor on Goodwin's staff, said the Harris family would probably not have received priority status on the waiting list if they had not been in a house that require major repairs. She said overcrowding does not qualify families for priority status.
Goodwin said his staff recently relocated a family of 27 from a house on Fairmont Street NW that was in terrible condition. He said they, like the Harris family, had to be relocated so the owner could make repairs. "They probably would have still been there if someone hadn't called us," said Goodwin.
The impending move of the Harris family will mean that members of the family, who have - in some cases - "grown up in the house will now be split up," according to 23-year-old Charles Smith, who said he is depressed. He added, however: "It will probably be for the better."
Smith said he plans to travel across the country and "survive."