There is debris everywhere, but the air-conditioning ducts and new bathtubs are in and the "blue jean" colored carpet will be installed next week. In about two weeks, Jacqueline Williams, her husband and 14 children will trade their three crowded bedrooms at a city-run shelter for the renovated, three-story, seven-bedroom house in Northeast Washington.
The family's new home is the result of a cooperative effort among social workers, the city's housing department and a private investor who gutted and renovated the roomy row house.
As Jacqueline Williams moved gingerly from room to room yesterday, she shook her head in disbelief. "I've never had anything like this in my life," said the 35-year-old District native. She said she is anxious to leave the temporary shelter at Capitol City Inn. "I just want to start something new; to live in a decent place and raise my kids with respect," she said.
Mayor Marion Barry cast an unwelcomed light on the family's plight in April when he mentioned at a news conference that he had asked a mother of 14 at the motel why she had so many children. Her case prompted a flurry of discussion over the airwaves and in newspapers.
Williams said she is still furious with the mayor. "He does owe me an apology," she said. She insists she is not "having babies for the taxpayers to pay for." She said she wants the mayor to know that she plans to take excellent care of her new home.
The Williams family will pay $522 of the monthly $1,300 rent. The balance will be paid through the District's Tenant's Assistance Program, said housing department spokesman Oliver Cromwell. The family also may get some help with utility fees.
The family's current income is approximately $1,300 a month, derived from public assistance and Social Security survivors benefits paid to 12 of the children whose natural father died in 1983, according to Ella McCall, Williams' social worker. Williams' husband Leroy Williams, a cook, is unemployed because of an injury, and hopes to collect Social Security soon.
Williams said she and her family moved into the emergency shelter in February when they were forced out of their house after falling several months behind in rent.
They continued living at the motel because, until recently, city officials insisted they could not find a suitable place for such a large group, Williams said.
McCall, the senior social worker at the shelter, worked with the Department of Housing and Community Development to qualify the family for tenant's assistance funds while Cleophas Johnson, the housing department's relocation chief, contacted local landlords.
Johnson said he spoke to real estate broker Bob Bradley five weeks ago about a large house he was renovating and putting up for sale. "We convinced him we had a real tight-knit family" who needed the house, Johnson said, adding that Bradley agreed to participate in the housing department program.
Bradley is out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Robert Mathis Sr., the contractor who has nearly rebuilt the inside of the house, said it is one of the most extensive projects he has worked on. "We had to go from the sewer to the top," he said. Mathis declined to say how much Bradley was paying him for the job.
As soon as the house passes a housing code inspection, the family can move in, Cromwell said.
Meanwhile, McCall and others are helping the family find furniture and clothing for the children, who range in age from 7 months to 18 years.
Not long after the 16 family members settle in, they have another treat to look forward to. According to Williams, everyone has been invited to an all-expense-paid trip to New York City on July 22 to appear on the Phil Donahue show.