As speculators flock to Alexandria's Mount Jefferson and Del Ray communities, residents and social service officials say they are trying to save what one area homeowner has called "the last vestage of moderately priced housing in all of Alexandria."
Many homeowners say that hardly a week goes by without a flyer or telephone call from a real estate company urging them to sell their houses. House prices in those communities have doubled in the last five years, according to David Chitlik of the Alexandria Real Estate Office.
Yet; at the same time, more than $1 million in relief funds are being poured into the areas, which have been declared conservation districts by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. There is an abundance of social service projects, low and no-interest loans for redeveloping homes, rental subsidies and long-range planning studies.
One Alexandria real estate agent said the prices in these areas "have been shooting up drastically in the last 36 months. Word is out among all the investors that this is the place to buy. People are putting out bids on houses as fast as they can find them."
Tina Breeding, president of the Mount Jefferson Civic Association, said Mount Jefferson and Del Ray "are the last areas in Alexandria where you can still buy a house for a reasonable price, around $40,000 or $50,000.
"But if the investors start coming in, they're going to push out the senior citizens and the renters. They're going to raise the property values so much that people won't be able to pay their taxes. Where will they go if they can't afford to live here?" she asked.
Vola Lawson, of the Community Development Block Gran Office in Alexandria, said Mount Jefferson and Del Ray are areas "where, overall, equal numbers of black, white, young and old people of all economic conditions live." About 60 to 70 percent of the residents own their own homes.
She said that the Mount Jefferson area has a higher percentage of black families and that homes there are "selling for a bit less" than in Del Ray. However, she said that the block grant office does not keep seperate statistics for each area.
"They have a real sense of neighborhood that doesn't exist in many places anymore," Lawson said. "They want to keep their neighborhood and their homes, and they don't want to become another Arlandria."
Arlandria is a neighboring community where, according to Lawson, five years ago 50 percent of the homes were owned by the people who lived in them. Today, more than 80 percent are owned by landlords.
Mount Jefferson is bounded by Ashby Street, Raymond Avenue and Mount Vernon avenues and Jefferson Davis Highway.
Like Mount Jefferson, most of the homes in Del Ray were built 30 to 40 years ago and have no historic value. Its borders and Glebe, Braddock and Russell roads and Jefferson Davis Highway.
George Collier, of the Alexandria Department of Planning, said 8,400 persons live in these two areas.
Prices in the areas, depending on the size and condition of the house, so long as someone's there to help pay the mortgage," she said.
While investors jockey for position in an area that one Georgetown real estate developer has called "wide open . . . a speculator's dream," more than $1 million in social service funds have been spent in Del Ray and Mount Jefferson since late 1976.
One program "we have had great success with," according to Breeding, is the housing authority's low and no-interest loan program, financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and channeled into the area through block grants.
This program makes loans of up to $15,000 available to residents who wish to rehabilitate their houses. There are no income requirements for the low-interest (6 percent) loans. To be eligible for a no-interest loan, a family of four must have an income of $14,500 or less, and must already be spending 35 percent of its income on housing.
Don Fey, a financial counselor for the housing authority, said that as of February, $251,000 in loans have been made to 46 families.
The block grant office, along with the Economic Opportunity Commission, has also spent more than $950,000 on other programs for the areas, Steele said.
Some of these include: purchase and rehabilitation of vacant and boarded houses for resale to low and moderate-income families; the High Intensity Program (HIP), in which off-duty police patrol to cut down on neighbor-range from $30,000 to $90,000 according to Chitlik.
Mount Jefferson and Del Ray are becoming more affluent as increasing numbers of two-income families and professionals move in, and said Beverly Steel, also of the block grant office.
"It is the last large area close to D.C. where people can still find low-cost, single-family houses - it's becoming an attractive place to live. The investors know this too, and they're looking to buy all the houses they can," she said.
The area is made even more attractive by two public works projects underways - a Metro subway station at Braddock Road and North West Street, and the Four Mile Run Flood Control Project just north of Del Ray. Both are due to be completed in 1980.
Timothy Handy, of the 300 block of Hume Avenue, said he and his wife, like many of their neighbors, have been approached three times recently about selling their house.
"She (the real estate agent) said her client was interested in buying a larger number of homes between Hume Street And Braddock Road, and would buy without even looking at the house first," Handy said.
"Prices are being driven up tremendously," said Ricahrd Groont, of the 200 block of Raymond Avenue. When the prices go up, the taxes go up, and you end up paying more to live in the same place and to receive the same services. Many people just can't afford that kind of situtation.
"People are in real danger of losing their homes, too. Before I lived here, I rented a place in Old Town, but was forced to move when my landlord sold out. The price being asked was too high, so I just had to go look elsewhere."
Former Alexandria City Council member Ellen Pickering said the people who are "most vulnerable" to speculation are homeowners living a "marginal life-style."
"If I'm desperate and have a lot of medical bills and someone comes in and offers me $40,000 for a house I paid $9,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 for, I'm going to take it," Pickering said. "But with today's housing market, once they sell their homes for what they think is a great profit, they're going to find that they can't afford to live anywhere else."
Pickering also noted that if speculators opt to become absentee landlords rather than living in the houses they buy, they will have a "blighting influence" on the neighborhoods.
"They (absentee landlords) know the land is worth more than the building, so they don't care about how it looks, hood crime; a senior citizens nutrition program; a day-care center at Mount Vernon Elementary; a health code "enforcement team," and a commercial revitalization study, aimed at bringing new business to the areas.
The two agencies also fund the Potomac West Community Center, 2419 Mount Vernon Ave., which serves as a base station for housing, counseling, family planning and related social services.
The areas receive "some, but not much" rental subsidy money from HUD's Section 8 program, a HUD spokesman said. Under this program, HUD helps low and moderate-income families with housing costs when their rental payments exceed 25 percent of their income.
There is also a plan, sponsored by the Economic Opportunities Commission, for a 15-month survey of the areas for the purpose of social planning. This $72,000 project has not yet been approved.
So, as one Braddock Road homeowner put it, "the race by homeowners and community service organizations against speculators for control of Mount Jefferson and Del Ray is on."
"We don't see any recourse to the speculators coming in," Breeding said. "It's a free country, so naturally you can buy as much as you can. But we're encouraging people not to sell, even if the price sounds good.
"We've also formed a federation of civic associations. Warwick Village, Arlandria, Mount Jefferson, Del Ray and Lynhaven are going to band together and try to do whatever we can," she said.
While plans for the federation are still in early stages, Breeding said that they intend to "try and keep up with the planning commission and the zoning laws and make sure that zoning infringements don't occur."
Groont, vice president of the Mount Jefferson Civic Association, said he would like to see action taken by the Alexandria City Council to help renters get first crack at their homes when their landlord decides to "sell out."
Lawson said that efforts must be made to educate residents about the many programs available to them.
"Right now, (the Northwest Washington neighborhood of) Adams-Morgan is a buzz word around there. They're afraid that if the market is heated up too fast it will destroy the flavor of their neighborhood, something they enjoy and feel secure in and are afraid to lose.But they don't have to lose it, and it'll be our job to let them know what's available to help them," she said. CAPTION: Picture 1, The demand for the moderate-priced houses of Del Ray has intensified. By Joel Richardson - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Mount Vernon Avenue: Area has gotten block grants for housing renewal. The Washington Post