Down in the rural Aquasco area of Prince George's County lived members of the Douglas clan in five trailers. They carried on without benefit of flush toilets, and all drew water from a single outdoor pump.
Then a new family who moved into a $150,000 house nearby complained to officials that the trailers violated county zoning laws.
The complaint that began in 1979 escalated in five years to a point where the families were told that the trailers could stay only if their low-income owner-occupants installed an artesian well and indoor plumbing. (In the 1980 census, 759 households in the county lacked indoor plumbing.)
After their plight was reported in The Washington Post in May 1984, a church-sponsored group known as SMASH -- Southern Maryland Self-Help -- negotiated on their behalf with county officials.
The county at first balked, arguing that trailers couldn't qualify for aid. But officials finally agreed that since the trailers had additions, they were in fact "houses" and their owners could receive federal block grants and loans. Papers were signed a year ago, and work is now almost complete.
"We finally bit the bullet," said LeRoy Brown, manager of the county's housing rehabilitation program. Altogether, he said, the families received $24,000 in grants for indoor plumbing and the common artesian well and $120,000 to fix up the dwellings themselves. The water pump is now disconnected, and the trailers, dressed in new siding, don't look like trailers.
"It looks real good," said Henry Pinkney, a member of the Douglas family by virtue of marrying Alice Douglas, as he showed off his renovated home to a reporter. "I think we got things going real good. I am real happy. I don't have any complaints."