Lorraine B. Sands and her eight children, the only tenants in an abandoned National Capitol Housing Authority (NCHA) project in Northeast Washington, this week gained another delay of at least two weeks in city efforts to evict them.
Tenants were asked to leave the project in 1977 because the city planned to renovate the apartments. District officials charge that Sands has refused to move into apartments offered to her, but she denies the allegation.
When Sands, her attorney and a lawyer from the city Corporation Counsel's office appeared in Landlord and Tenant Court this week, Judge James A. Belson instructed the two sides to reach an agreement by Feb. 12 or return to court on that date for a hearing in the case.
"The only thing I want is a five bedroom apartment right out here in my area," said Sands, a large blue and white button reading "Prayer Changes Things" bobbing on her coat.
She said she has lived in the Northeast area of Washington nearly 20 years. Her public assistance income is $540 a month, and her roomy apartment, which has its own thermostat, rents for $65 a month, she said.
Before she moved into the dwelling 14 years ago, Sands rented another NCHA apartment that often lacked heat and hot water and was converted into a community center for this reason, she said. Housing officials supported her statement.
"I went through eight years putting water on a stove. There was no heat downstairs. They said I had to get out," said Sands of her former apartment.
Problems with her present dwelling began in 1977 when the tenants living in the 34 single-family apartments were told the structures were to be renovated and that they had to move. She said tenants never received a written notice but were told of the eviction at a community meeting.
While other families still lived in the complex, Sands said, NCHA officials did not pressure her to move. They offered her apartments and told her she could accept them or reject them.
She said she was allowed to refuse five-bedroom apartments in areas outside the Northeast, and when she asked to move into a large, four-bedroom apartment near where she now lives, NCHA officials told her she qualified for a five-bedroom apartment and should wait for a unit of that size.
Last June, after the other tenants in the complex had left, Sands was still waiting.
James Holland, property manager of the complex, said that if NCHA personnel told Sands she could take her time in selecting an apartment, "I believe they felt... something else would come up." Nothing is presently available in the Northeast area, however, he said.
"It's a crisis. What's being done now is a last resort," said Holland of the attempts to evict Sands. "But I think I can safely say, I don't think the housing authority would put Mrs. Sands in the street."
Also under dispute is Sands' claim that she was denied a five-bedroom apartment in Southeast because she would not move in the same day she saw it. Holland denies her claim.
NCHA is charging that Sands violated an agreement to move into "an appropriate size dwelling unit based on family size or health requirements upon appropriate notice by the administration that such a dwelling unit is available."
Holland suggested that Sands is facing eviction now, rather than earlier, because "the (bureacratic) wheels turn slowly."
He also said that city officials now say they may decide to demolish the apartments rather than renovate them.
Last week an NCHA maintenance crew came to board up the abandoned buildings, including her apartment, Sands said. They were instructed not to after she called Holland's office to complain.
Now, she says, NCHA officials are asking why she is a troublemaker, "why I have to be different from everybody else (who moved). I said, 'It's not being different. I have the right to speak up for myself. I have my rights,'" she said softly.