Students at the neighborhood schools used to call it "clown town." That was when the neat rows of five bedroom, low-income houses were painted every color of the rainbow and were full of people.
Now the 56 units are painted sterile white; the buildings empty, the streets silent. The windows are bare of winking lights, evergreens or ornaments that would give the appearance of Christmas in "clown town."
No laughter or music comes from behind the closed doors because the people who lived in the homes in the two block area are gone-except for Lorraine Sands and her eight children. Since last June, they alone have lived in this Northeast ghostown.
"i really don't go all out for Christmas," said Sands, explaining the absence of decorations. "I live close to the Lord everyday. I've always been to myself. I trust in the Lord."
Sands was not supposed to be the only remaining resident, district housing officials said. James Holland, manager of the complex, said urban renewal plans that were never completed forced the relocation of the other families who had lived in Deanwood. In April 1977, 34 families lived in 34 of the units. The other units were closed or used as part of a community center. The units rented for $34 to $154 monthly.
"At one time there was a strong indication those units were going to be rehabbed," Holland said. "In order to do that, we had to move everybody out."
Families were scattered throughout the city with the promise that once the units were renovated they would have the first option to move back. Holland said. Some of the units were even partly rehabilitated. Then, as the renovation promise slowly faded, Holland said the Department of Housing and Community Development intensified its efforts to find Sands an apartment large enough for her family. She was offered numerous apartments most of them in Southeast, "and she refused them all, "Holland said.
Perhaps she wanted to stay to get first crack at the rehabilitated units and didn't believe the former tenants would be brought back, he speculated.
For the past year and a half, Sands said, she had waited faithfully for a five-bedroom apartment in the Deanwood area where she has lived 19 years.During her four years in "clown town," she's enjoyed the convenience of nearby bus lines, grocery stores and schools that five of her eight children, age 3-21, attend. Two days a week, Sands said, she is a volunteer tutor at Richardson Elementary School
"I really love my place." She said "Here I have two whole baths. I can control my own heat and hot water. The rooms are large."
Rent is $65 a month, and most of the utilities are included in the rent, said Sands, who said she receives public asistance.
"The older ones say, 'Mama, we don't want to move,' I said, 'We're trusting the Lord,' I said, Northwest, Southwest, Kenilworth, Those are the places I don't want to go. Some of those low-income units are so clamped together."
Sometimes, she said, she dreams of leasing a house she can buy some day. But mostly, Sands saids, she longs for an affordable five-bedroom apartment in her present neighorhood.
"Some people been knocked around so much they won't say anything," the middle-aged woman explained. "Some (people feel) since you have a large family they can throw you anywhere. But we're human.
"So many didn't want to give it up," Sands said of her former neighbors' reluctance to leave. "One old lady, Mrs. Brown, took it very hard."
During the earlier months, when neighbors were still around, Sands said housing officials were lenient in allowing her time to look for an apartment. Then, suddenly, the last Deanwood tenants were gone, Sands was left alone and DHCD became concerned for her safety, she said.
"I don't fear," she said of her situation. "I trust in the Lord, that's my protection. If something is going to happen, it's going to happen."
Holland said he doesn't believe the empty units are going to be renovated, nor does he feel they should be.
"In my opinion, (the area) is too dense," he said. "Public housing was put up in the old days when families had control of their children. Now that's changed.
"I believe at this point she realizes we're not lying to her (about the units bot being renovated) and she feels she should consider going ahead moving."
DHCD officials were unable to provide information on how much money was spent on Deanwood renovations or why the renovations were stopped. They also could not say what will happen to the buildings now.
Meanwhile, Sands said she wants to settle in a new home. Recently, she was willing to take an apartment in a DHCD housing project in Southeast, she said. The manager of the complex told her she had to move into the apartment the same day she saw it. Sands said she refused. DHCD officials deny the claim.
Sands also said she calls Holland's office frequently to ask about vacancies in Northeast. She said she learned of a vacant apartment at Richardson, a complex just a few blocks from where she now lives.
Alice A. Smith, assistant manager to Holland, said she mailed a notice to Sands Dec. 18 informing her that a four-bedroom apartment was available in Richardson. Smith said the apartment, which is in a one-family house, will cost slightly more and Sands will have to pay for her own utilities.
Sands said she'll take it, even though she really neeeds five bedrooms.
"I'll have to manage with four bed-rooms," she said. "I came out of four bedroom (four years ago).It seems like I'm going backwards instead of forwards."