A family living in an unheated, garbage-strewn apartment building in Southwest Washington was referred there by a city employee, not a contract worker, D.C. officials said yesterday.

But the building, standing amid 28 shuttered structures on a street ravaged by the drug trade during the 1990s, was livable when the caseworker took the family there, said Linda Grant, spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Firefighters responding to a false alarm at 137 Forrester St. SW this week found Valerie Thomas and her six children living in a building now deemed uninhabitable.

City officials initially said the family was sent there by a contract caseworker working for an outside agency. But yesterday, Grant said Maria Dyson, the woman Thomas identified as her caseworker, is an employee of Child and Family Services.

Thomas said Dyson took her to the building in August after telling her she had to find housing or her six children would be taken away.

According to reports from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the building went through several inspections since June 1998 and November 1999, which uncovered a series of minor problems, Grant said. But the conditions that existed Jan. 11--"exposed human feces, open garbage and people living and sleeping in the hallway"--were not found by inspectors who had been there as recently as November, she said.

Thomas, however, said the building was squalid when she moved there in August.

Grant said Consumer and Regulatory Affairs did a sweep of Forrester Street in May and June after residents complained of drug activity in abandoned apartments.

The city says a total of three families recently were living at 137 Forrester St. The families have since been relocated by the Red Cross, and the city is investigating whether they were besieged by the spillover from the shuttering of the 28 buildings last spring.

A-1 Realty, the company that manages the property for owners Urban Investments Inc., refused to comment on its relationship to the building and its owners.

City officials are also trying to determine the role of a nonprofit collaborative that allegedly placed the other family living in the building, Grant said. The third unit was occupied by an elderly woman who had been in the building for more than a decade.