Last month, Ernestine Turner, a welfare mother of eight, received notice from her landlord that she had 45 days to put down $3,000 to buy the dilapidated row house she has rented for 10 years near 14th and T Streets NW, or move out.
After a frantic but unsuccessful search for a new place to live, Mrs. Turner - who pays $145 of her $346 monthly welfare allotment for rent - finally collapsed with a nervous breakdown on May 20 and was admitted to the Washington Hospital Center for treatment.
Evictions of poor families like Mrs. Turner's are becoming commonplace in Washington's innercity as speculators, renovators and homeowners in growing numbers are restoring the rundown Victorian houses that line the ghetto streets.
"I've gone everywhere trying to find a place big enough and cheap enough for my family," said Mrs. Turner, 42, who sat on the edge of her hospital bed and spoke in a soft voice. "I've been to the mayor's office, the department of Human Resources and the public housing office. Everybody says there's nothing available for a family my size."
Mrs. Turner thought her housing problems werre solved 10 years ago when she moved from a three-bedroom house in the 1200 block of Linden Place NE to 1339 T St., where she has five bedrooms.
"This house was everything I ever wanted," said Mrs. Turner, whose six daughters and two sons ages 7 to 24 all live with her and helped fix up the house.
In order to stay in a house that she liked, Mrs. Turner said she had to endure a community environment she did not like. "When I first moved in, people used to get drunk and sleep on my porch," she said. On other occasions, Mrs. Turner said, she and her older duaghters have been mistaken for prostitutes, who congregated on the street in large numbers.
In time Mrs. Turner hoped the neighborhood would change and she could buy the house most of her neighors thought she already owned.
But one morning in early April, Mrs. Turner received a letter from her landlord, Talley R. Holmes Jr., offering her an opportunity to purchase the house or move out in 45 days. Holmes wanted a $3,000 down payment on the $33,000 selling price.
"There was no way I could cought up $3,000 in 45 days," Mrs. Turner said. "If I had that kind of money just lying around, I wouldn't be rent that house in the first place."
Although she is being forced out of her home, Mrs. Turner still feels gratitude of her landlord, who she says has the cheapest rent in the city and could charge more if he wanted to.
"Mr. Holmes is getting rich at the expense of his poor tenants," she said. "He knows it and we know it, but I can understand that Mr. Holmes would want to sell his property and get as much as he can."
"I'm a businessman, not a social worker," said Holmes, 54, who is selling 12 of the 18 houses he owns on T Street between 13th and 14th. "Mrs. Turner can't afford to buy her house and I can't afford to maintain it. I was offered twice what I paid for it. I've got to sell."
Mrs. Turner says that "when Mr. Holmes walks up the street, people standing outside their houses tense up. They smile and make light conversation. They ask about his mother and talk about the house. They are hoping their house won't be the next to be sold."