The provider of a major portion of Alexandria's subsidized housing does not intend to continue participating in a federal rental-assistance program, sending residents of more than 400 units scrambling to find apartments in a tight market.

The decision by Apartment Investment and Management Co., or AIMCO, the property manager for the Foxchase of Alexandria, comes when area apartment rents are soaring. And many affected residents say they have little hope of finding a place to live nearby.

Residents of 423 units learned two weeks ago that the company does not intend to renew its 20-year contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides rental assistance to low-income residents under its Section 8 program. The units at Foxchase, which house nearly 300 seniors, represent about 20 percent of Alexandria's federal Section 8 housing units.

"This really would be a massive displacement of some of the most vulnerable people that we have in the city," said City Manager Vola Lawson. "Housing is very, very tight. I don't know how we could find 423 places for people to go."

The potential displacement follows similar housing setbacks for the poor throughout Northern Virginia. Three other Section 8 programs--two in Loudoun County and one in Fairfax--have ended in the past year.

Today in Alexandria, Lawson, Mayor Kerry J. Donley (D) and Federal Housing Administration Commissioner William Apgar will meet with AIMCO regional vice president Bruce Terwilliger and urge him to renew the contract.

Apgar said that he will offer AIMCO several options, including one to keep all 423 units as Section 8 housing but provide the landlord with market-rate rent, a program that became effective in May. Since then, the rate of landlords who do not renew a Section 8 contract has dropped by 75 percent, Apgar said.

Terwilliger, who said the decision was purely economic, said the company could reconsider.

"There's still a thought that maybe in the long term, this [apartment complex] should not have any affordable units," he said. "It's just like if you have a contract for 20 years on your house--you're not obligated beyond that. We've got stockholders to look after."

Foxchase received a $76 million loan 20 years ago from the Virginia Housing Development Authority to rehabilitate the 2,113-apartment complex. The loan was the largest the authority ever financed and committed Foxchase to the contract, which will expire in November.

Judy Ellis, a three-year resident of Foxchase under the Section 8 program, said she has searched the city in vain for substitute housing.

"I would say that I'm feeling fear, because I don't want to be out on the street; anxiety, because I don't know what's going to happen; and anger at the indifference of Alexandria to some of its less fortunate citizens," she said. "There's going to be a lot of people that don't have a place to live."

Other Foxchase Section 8 residents, who would give only their first names, had similar concerns.

"We're planning on making a life here, and now everything's up in the air," said Carlos, a man who has lived there since 1990.