The locust trees that shade the wooden front porch of Viola Goodwin's trailer home off Rte. 1 south of Alexandria are intertwined with low-strung power lines. Her trailer sits precariously on the edge of a red clay slope.
Hazardous conditions such as those near Goodwin's trailer are common throughout the Woodley-Nightingale Mobile Home Park, a crowded encampment of more than 260 families living along narrow, crumbling roads and using obsolete water and sewer lines.
For five years, park residents have been assured that Fairfax County, which owns the park, intended to clean up the site.
But this week county officials told Woodley-Nightingale leaders that the county government doesn't have enough money for the project and may have to sell part of the park to raise money for the promised redevelopment.
Almost half the families there may have to give up their homes.
For Goodwin and her neighbors, the announcement produced despair.
"This is home to a lot of us," said the retired Montgomery County schoolteacher, who gives her age as "past 60" and pays $125 a month in rent for her space in the trailer park. She has lived there for a decade. "The park looks a bit like a ragamuffin, but we like it . . . . I don't want to leave my home. It's not right."
Under a proposal that Fairfax officials describe as "only a concept," the county would sell about 33 acres of the 45-acre site to raise money to renovate the remainder of the land. The sale, however, would generate only enough money to build a spruced-up park for 110 mobile homes.
Under the plan, the residents who would be forced out would to given grants of as much as $22,000 to help them settle elsewhere. Others might be offered low-cost apartment housing in the mixed-use development that would be built on the portion of land sold by the county.
"Giving them money to relocate is not going to help them find housing," said Sharon Kelso, executive director of United Community Ministries, a social service group. "It's like: relocate to where?"
"I'm not thrilled about it because we're putting a lot of people out," said Fairfax Supervisor T. Farrell Egge (R-Mount Vernon), who represents the area. "But at the same time it may be the only viable option available. It is not an easy situation by any stretch."
When Fairfax bought Woodley-Nightingale in 1981, the park had more than 500 trailers and was badly overcrowded.
County officials said they were forced to reduce the park's population through attrition to comply with federal and local health and housing standards. Much of the land, they discovered, was marine clay and was unsafe for trailers.
Verdia L. Haywood, deputy county executive for human services, acknowledged that Fairfax's original goal of preserving low-cost housing had not been completely successful. He said that because of the high cost of renovation, the county has few options but to sell a large chunk of the land.
"There is substandard housing, substandard conditions and substandard infrastructure at the park," he said in an interview. "I don't think the county should be an owner in a condition like that."
The plan to sell a portion of the park requires approval of the county board. It is not popular among welfare agencies serving residents of Woodley-Nightingale, a park built near the end of World War II to help ease the county's postwar housing shortage.
"It appears they county officials are more interested in the development rather than to try to take care of the senior citizens there," said Joseph Adinaro, president of Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services, a small nonprofit social service agency.
Until the current plan surfaced this week, the county had told park residents that Woodley-Nightingale would be renovated with facilities for 218 trailers.
That promise, county officials said, became economically impossible to keep. Redevelopment for 218 trailers would cost $5.5 million -- about $25,000 per trailer site, more than the county can raise by selling a portion of trailer park, officials said.
Haywood said the county, which has a $1 billion budget, cannot dip into its general revenues for the project.
The park, 3 1/2 miles south of the Capital Beltway, is home to many widows, such as Goodwin, as well as laborers, retired veterans and other low-income residents with nowhere else to go in high-rent Fairfax County.
Some trailers boast well-tended rose gardens, flagpoles and white picket fences the equal of any in suburbia. Others have weedy front yards filled with discarded auto parts and other items.
Goodwin said the rumors of the county plan stirred so much fear that some elderly residents walked out in tears from a luncheon for the park's elderly held this week in a nearby restaurant.
She said she feels safe from crime in the leafy trailer park and considers her neighborhood a safe and friendly place.
Robert Minnick, who has lived in Woodley-Nightingale since 1956 and raised three children there, said he and his wife now have a watchdog so they can leave home for a few hours without worrying about a break-in.
The management of the trailer park used to insist that residents keep their yards clean, said Minnick, 57, a retired Army maintenance instructor who now runs a nearby gun shop.
"Now, a lot of people rent a trailer for a month" just to repair their cars, he said.