The living room in 83-year-old Flavie Jaillet's apartment is small and crammed with family mementoes and memories.
But she won't look back on this holiday season and remember it kindly, she said. After 16 years, Jaillet and her brother are being forced to move. Their apartment building is being sold, she said sadly, and they have no place to go.
Jaillet and her brother are the last remaining tenants in the building.
As Jaillet reflects on her predicament, she sits in an ornate rocker stuffed with the paisley pillow her granddaughter sent her two Christmases ago.
"I'm just about desperate," she said. Her words bear traces of the accent she has not lost in the 60 years since she left France.
Esther Siegal, a housing specialist with the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association, is one of several community service workers trying to relocate Jaillet and her 85-year-old brother, Saver Morrill.
But in a city experiencing a shortage of decent, affordable housing, it's hard to find a place for them, Siegal said.
Jaillet has been shown several apartments but found then either unsuitable for her needs or too far from her Adams-Morgan neighborhood, Siegal said.
"There's no way they're going to find anything affordable and decent," Siegal said. "And for people who consider a neighborhood their home and want to stay there it's virtually impossible."
Nearly three years ago, Jaillet's Adams-Morgan building, the Mintwood, was purchased by a group of investors headed by D.C. attorney Mark Brodsky. Following a long legal battle, Brodsky said the investors obtained certificates for co-op and condominium conversion. The building is about to be sold to a developer that Brodsky would not name. Brodsky said most tenants left the Mintwood shortly after the first notices to vacate were sent about two years ago. Empty apartments were temporarily rented as dorm rooms to Antioch College students.
The Mintwood was once almost fully occupied by low-income tenants, many of whom were Hispanos. Now only Jaillet and her ailing brother remain.
The rent (which has been waived) on the modest two-bedroom apartment is $107 a month plus utilities, Jaillet said. Supermarkets, cleaners and a post office are a short walk away. Major bus routes are nearby. A Spanish Center where the couple purchases low-cost meals is two blocks away.
A widow for the past 26 years, Jaillet says her only child lives in Florida. A grandson who lives in Takoma Park, Md., visits once a week.
Her only other company is her brother, who has become despondent and quarrelsome over the impending move.
"I am abandoned," she said.
Under an agreement with the tenants who left in December, Brodsky has agreed to pay the sister and brother up to $7,500 to move. He said he will help relocate Jaillet and Morrill and pay them limited rent subsidies, if necessary.
"I know them both and I certainly don't want to hurt them," Brodsky said.
At the mention of Brodsky's name Jaillet's face clouds.
"I said to Mr. Brodsky, 'Why do you want this house?' He laughed . . . But after 16 years this is my home."
Jaillet says no amount of money is worth moving.
"I feel like if I leave (the neighborhood) I'll be in exile."
As the Jan. 5 date to vacate approaches, she spends her days packing boxes. In her bedroom an electric space heater throws off small blasts of hot air. A paper plaque sitting on her dresser urges her to "Expect a miracle."
Jaillet knows better. Sometimes she goes apartment hunting.
Someone told her there was a vacancy at the Biltmore in the next block, she said.
"They even had a sign outside: Apartment for Rent. I went inside.They said it's $860." She throws up her hands and chuckles as she describes the incident.
"I laughed. There's a pool and a (social) center he (the landlord) said. I said I need a radiator. I don't need a pool!"
Her mood suddenly changes. Her voice is anxious as she says, "I know (landlords) want to make money. But not to the detriment of poor people. They're going to push you down and down till you go down in the ground. That's the way I see it coming."