Jennie Harris, a 17-year resident of Mayfair Mansions in Northeast Washington, described herself this way the other day: "You're just a prisoner in your home, and without heat."

A prisoner, she said, because drug dealers outside make life treacherous in Mayfair. Without heat because gas lines to her building were shut down in mid-October after a leak was discovered.

Harris and other residents without heat were issued electrical space heaters to tide them over until repairs are made, but it is not enough, said Harris, who is 61 and recovering from two strokes.

"My legs stay cold and they ache."

Harris' apartment is one of 38 without normal gas heat for two months. The heat to 10 other affected units was restored 10 days ago, Glenn French, the complex's property manager, said.

A plumbing contractor began work yesterday on gas pipes that serve 17 units in one building, and service to half the units is expected to be restored there in four or five days, French said. Residents in the remaining 21 units will be moved out of their apartments around the first of the year when renovations will begin on their building, including gas line repairs, he said. The renovations are part of a $15 million government-financed project to revive the 42-year-old complex, said Arthur Reynolds, general partner of Mayfair Mansions Associates, which owns the complex.

City housing inspectors have been monitoring the gas line problem closely since October and a check of temperatures inside the apartments Wednesday found that the space heaters provide sufficient warmth by District standards, said Benjamin R. Johnson, administrator of housing and environmental regulations.

Still, he said, "We are going to ask them to speed up the process. When a heating plant is down that long, we certainly know that it's an inconvenience to the tenants."

Some residents, who live with rampaging crime and drug dealing, said the heat problem is but the latest example of management neglect.

"If it isn't one thing, it's another," Harris said. "During the summer, there was no air conditioning and I had to go buy one. It's just, to me, neglect. But what can you do about it?"

French said tenants at the 569-unit complex, many of whom live on rent subsidies, can look forward to a much more liveable environment once the renovations are completed.

"We're conscientious landlords here," French said. "We're going to bring it back."

Out on the grounds on a blustery afternoon, an eight-year resident who did not want to give her name said her heat was out last year and the space heaters provided by management weren't enough. Still, she said she is satisfied with the way maintenance problems are handled. "When you call them and tell them what's wrong, they will come out. They really respond very nicely."

But Paul Swinson, 57, a 19-year resident, mopped his kitchen floor and recited a list of housing woes, including gas leaks, broken stoves and outside doors that don't lock.

Tenants met Saturday night to discuss ways of pressuring management to step up the heat repairs, said Barbara Brown, 38, who is vice president of the tenants council. They discussed alternatives including withholding rent payments.

Residents, Brown said, have not been kept informed of what is being done to restore their normal heat. "That's what really burns me up."

While the repairs continue, Brown said, her mother Tessie Brown, 81, keeps the space heaters on, along with the oven, then puts extra blankets on the bed and sleeps in her coat.