Because of a typographical error, a story in yesterday's editions carried an incorrect figure for the number of rental units in Alexandria. The correct figure is 24,142.
The kitchen faucets have no handles. Mice roam the rooms at night. Some light sockets have stopped working, and there is a hole in a window.
Nevertheless, the rundown Alexandria rooming house is home to three tenants whose own afflictions rival those of their $80-per-unit surroundings.
Hazel Walker is legally blind. Her son, whom she depends on for assitance, suffers from narcolepsy, a sleeping sickness.Their fellow tenant, Walter Yancey, is a victim of throat cancer who depends on the Walkers to help interpret his words.
Now the Walkers, Yancey and two other tenants have been ordered out by their landlord, a local church that wants to renovate the two-story brick building for higher rents.
"If I leave here I ain't got no place else to go," says Yancey, who holds an electrical amplifier to his throat to be heard.
The tenants are fighting their ouster in court, but they concede they hope only to gain time to locate other low-cost housing in the area. And other low-cost housing is scarce.
Alexandria officials say the city's supply of rental units for low-income residents is dwindling rapidly as owners rehabilitate aging structures for hefty rentals or sale to new homeowners in the heated Alexandria real estate market.
"Every day we get calls like this . . . the phone never stops ringing," says Rosa Harper, an investigator in the city's Landlord-Tenant Relations Office. "Sometimes we can find them temporary housing, but often there's nothing we can do."
There are 234,142 rental units in Alexandria, but only one-fourth of them carry rents of $250 a month or less, according to city figures.
Additionally, there is a waiting list of 600 families for the city's 1,942 subsidized rental units, city officials said.
"Dislocation is an historic phenomenon in Alexandria," said city manager Douglas Harman."It was experienced first in the Old Town area, and now we are seeing it in the Del Ray area. We expect it will start happening soon in the Arlandria section."
The city underwent a massive dislocation of low-income people several years ago, when the 2,100-unit Shirley-Duke/Regina apartments were closed by their bankrup owners. As many as 6,000 people were forced to move then, officials said.
The City Council earlier this year required redevelopers of the project to include 423 subsidized units in their plans in an attempt to ease the shortage.
The church-owned rooming house, Pratt House, is located in a predominantly black section of Alexandria, on a quiet street lined with small two-story brick row houses. Several blocks away are abandoned buildings, but several blocks beyond that are new town houses selling for in excess of $100,000 each.
Edwin C. Brown Jr, the attorney for the Mount Jezreel Baptist Church, which owns the rooming house at 411 n. Fayette St., said, "The church has been losing money on the house for more than a year. We think we can renovate it and rent it to one family for more money than we are getting now."
Brown said the church stopped accepting rent from the tenants in August "so they could build up some money to help them move.
"He said he knew nothing about a charge by the renters' court-appointed attorney, made in papers filed in Alexandria General District Court, that the rooming house was unlicensed, a misdemeanor violation of the city health code.
Pratt House does not appear on the latest list of licensed rooming houses in the city.
Attorney Patricia Ryan Yohay is scheduled to appear in court today seeking on technical grounds to post-pone the eviction of her clients from their home. Yohay declined comment yesterday because of the pending court case.
"We depend on each other," said Hazel Walker, 60, who said she was blinded 12 years ago during a fight. She said she receives $169.30 in and $54 in disability aid. "I can't see and the other people here help me around," she said.
Her son George, 37, said his mother "wakes me up, calls out to me," when the inherited disease of narcolepsy causes him to doze off. "I tried to find some other place to live, but we're poor, ad we want to stay together. There's no place that would have us."
Walter Yancey, 46, put his amplifier to his throat. "People are frightened of me because I sound funny. These people are not my friends, they're my family. What will happen to me if we have to leave?" he asked.