On Nov. 21, Shirley Parker said a long goodbye to the simple two-story frame house she and her late father purchased 17 years ago at 15th and Irving streets NE.
She walked slowly across the bare hardwood floors, remembering how her children used to play in the corner of one room, how she bruised her knee while refinishing the floor in another, how the walls of the dining room "almost reached out to hug you" when the whole family gathered there for dinner.
And when she came to the living room, the frail, weary-looking 52-year-old widow took a final glance at the walls, now stripped of more than a decade of family membories, and began to weep.
"This house has been such an incredible part of my life. . . . I kept it together the way I kept my family together --  long years without anybody else giving me a thing. My kids, my dad and my home were the things that kept me going all these years, kept me apart from all the people who complain about never having anything, but never lift a finger to change it. And now there's nothing left."
On Nov. 22, Shirley Parker was evicted, the loser in a three-year foreclosure battle that banking, real estate and housing experts all say could have been avoided with one telephone call.
In 1977, backed by a firm guarantee commitment from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Parker had been on the brink of obtaining a second mortgage to eradicate a backlog of delinquent housing payments. But at the last minute, officials at Community Federal Savings and Loan reneged on an earlier promise to grant Parker the second loan. They wanted time to reconsider.
The holder of the original mortgage decided it could wait no longer, so Parker's house was sold. for three years, she fought the sale in the courts, but was unsuccessful. On Friday afternoon Nov. 21, Shirley Parker left the house for good, and moved in with her sister in Southeast.
Parker and HUD officials blame Community Federal's president and chief executive officer, Oralando W. Darden, for the loss of the house because he did not intercede on Parker's behalf.
"We've never really seen a case like this where, because of the failure of one individual to act decisively, you cause a person to lose their home," Tom Bacon, a spokesman for HUD, said. "When we learned that the foreclosure had gone through in spite of our efforts, we were appalled."
Darden said he does not believe he was a fault. "Shirley Parker's was a one in a million case," he said recently. "But clearly, we were not responsible for the loss of her house. . . . I as president and CEO [chief executive officer] could not have forced [the loan] through. I wouldn't attempt to take it upon myself and say 'hold it' and stop the foreclosure."
Parker's story is an intriciate web spun of the oft-threas of banking, government bureaucracy, and the American legal system.
In 1969, Parker, then a registeered nurse, was convicted of performing an abortion on a teen-age girl. She went to jail and was stripped of her job and her nursing license. During the year Parker was incarcerated, she fell behind in her house payments.
After her release, Parker got pneumonia 14 times, she says, and found it difficult to hold down a job. Behind on her house note and her utility bills, often without food, and nearly always ill, she turned to welfare.
She says her appearance is a good indicator of the toll the ordeal has taken.
Once endowed with what she describes as a "generous" figure, Parker is paper-thin now, with small bones forming sharp corners beneath her translucent brown skin. Her posture is ramrod-straight, her gaze firm and unwavering. She is wrapped in a threadbare gray cloth coat, worn with the kind of pride most women reserve for sable.
It was this same pride, she says that led her to Community Federal, a black-controlled institution, in 1977, in a last attempt to save her home. She had heard from a government agency that the bank might be receptive to her loan request.
At first her request was turned down on grounds that her credit rating was too poor. At her insistence, the request was reconsidered, but again it was rejected. Parker, who was then working as a secretary at Pride, Inc., appealed all the way to Patricia Roberts Harris, then the secretary of HUD.
Her persistence paid off. Two weeks after her meeting with an assistant to Harris, HUD determined that she did qualify for the loan, and called to tell her so. But three days later, Parker lost the house.
In a June 1977 letter to Darden, George O. Hipps Jr., who was then acting director of HUD's Office of Loan Origination, said: "It is our opinion that the actual sale should not have taken place and could have been avoided had it not been for the actions of your institution . . . the actions by Community Federal which resulted in Ms. Parker losing her home clearly violate good business practice and accepted standards of conduct."
The letter went on to state HUD's intention to investigate grounds for withdrawing Community Federal's status as an FHA-approved mortgagee.
HUD spokesman Bacon said last week that Community Federal's mortgagee status was left intact after agency attorneys discovered that FHA-approval could not be withdrawn on the basis of a single reported incident.
Still, Bacon said, "We feel that they [Community Federal] were inept although we can't say they did anything illegal."
Darden said he believed the foreclosure would have gone on anyway because "the principal lender, [Vermont Federal Savings &Loan Assn.] was at the point where they saw recovering their property as their only alternative."
However, HUD officials disagree. "The only thing he [Darden] needed to do at that point," Tom Bacon of HUD said, "was pick up the phone, call someone over at Vermont Federal, and say, 'look, we don't have HUD's paperwork in hand, but it's on the way. Let's hold this thing up until we get it.'"
Darden firmly insists it was not his responsibility to make the phone call or to call HUD and verify information about the commitment issued to Parker. He says "someone" called Community Federal to inform them of HUD's decision to back the loan, "but we could not rely on hearsay."
No one from Community Federal called HUD to verify the information, he said, "because we have a three-person office here, [Parker] had already taken up a considerable amount of our time, and you can't alienate your other customers by devoting all your time to one individual . . . we just can't meet all of the standards of courtesy which some people believe we should -- you go down in the annals as a nice guy, but you also go out of business."
Community Federal had already overextended itself simply by considering Parker's problem, Darden maintains. Most banks, he said, would not even consider someone who had Parker's poor credit rating "and had been incarcerated to boot.
"In fact," Darden said, "I would be disinclined, in the future, to accept the application of someone who had been incarcerated. Everyone we've had has turned out to be a problem . . . in every instance, something has gone wrong."
Once Parker went to court to try to nullify the sale, the banks and the new owner the sale, the banks and the new owner of Parker's home, Simon Douglas, countersued, and subsequently won summary judgments. While Parker's house was sold for $30,000, delinquent mortgage payments and other debts would have cut the amount she would have received to only about $7,000. But any money she would have realized from the sale of her home will now probably go to cover legal fees.
The new owner Douglas, once offered to sell Parker's home back to her for $55,000. Now, he says, it's not for sale at all.