The eight new town houses sit on a quiet street, behind newly-planted lawns and young shrubs. Inside, sunlight streams through the white and wood kitchens. The living room walls are also white, accented softly by champagne-hued nylon plush carpeting.
"If these houses were in Montgomery County," one real estate agent in the neighborhood maintains, "they'd sell for $100,000."
But the three-bedroom brick and frame town houses are on Hunt Place in far Northeast Washington and they are on the market for $69,500, far below the average price of houses in the city. Only one of the Hunt Place houses has been sold, however.
They are located in a section called Burrville, between Eastern, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Division avenues and Sheriff Road. Buyers who could afford the Hunt Place houses aren't looking there, another agent says. She said that families who have been coming to see the houses generally earn less than $25,000 -- the annual salary needed to qualify for financing for the dwellings.
Willis P. Greene, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission serving Burrville, believes that the town houses are priced out of the neighborhood, where the estimated median family income is $15,000.
But he concedes that the price may have been driven up as the result of delays brought on by his own group's opposition to the project four years ago. The principal objections then, he said were the lack of a service alley in the rear and the possibility of soil erosion in the backyards.
An underlying reservation, too, was the concern that developers would alter Burrville's close-knit character.
"My mother attended elementary school there," Greene said. "So did I. A lot of families are third and fourth generation. Burrville has many narrow streets, like Georgetown. It doesn't lend itself to development."
But the man who built the houses on Hunt Place, William Kirchiro, defends the project.
"We have a good product," he said. "It's a well-built house." He agrees that the working-class neighborhood is calm and settled and that the people who live there have "a lot of concern for the area and the neighborhood."
Kirchiro and Shay Olds, of Kim Realty, who is trying to sell the houses for him, also point to the advantages of living seven blocks from a Metro station and to the area's crime rate, the lowest in the city. "The area's on the move," Kirchiro contends.
But the Hunt Place location has some drawbacks. In front, the houses look out on a church and parking lot; in back, an apartment complex. Many of the frame homes in the neighborhood are old and in need of repair.
At $69,500, Kirchiro's houses are near the top of the line for the Burrville neighborhood. He had planned to put them on the market for far less -- about $50,000, but delays in obtaining rezoning and increased costs of construction have helped push the prices up, he said.
Bill Kirchiro, 39, a former University of Maryland football player who played with the Baltimore Colts for two years, describes himself as "not in any form a big builder." He got his start in housing by renovating older houses in the city; he also built some small houses in the $45,000 to $48,000 range in Southeast and on Eastern Avenue.
In 1975, Kirchiro bought the Hunt Place land from an apartment developer, and planned to build apartments there. Then, after Kirchiro decided that apartments weren't economically feasible, it took two and a half years for the D.C. Zoning Board to change the zoning to allow town house construction.
"There was conflict on the board," Kirchiro recalled. "Some people didn't want town homes. I went down there four times and wasn't heard." After six meetings, approval was granted.
The zoning lag, coupled with bad weather, meant the houses weren't ready for occupancy until last month. During the more than three years it took to get the homes built, costs had climbed, pushing Kirchiro's price to $69,500.
Kirchiro, and his brother Mike, who supervised the building on Hunt Place, say the town houses are still worth it. They are 20 feet by 37, with roughly 18 feet of yard in front and 30 in back. The houses have eat-in kitchens, one-car garages, central air conditioning and security alarms, among other features.
But they lack some things often sought in $70,000 homes, such as living room fireplaces and bathrooms off the master bedrooms. Architecturally, they are austere and boxy, and their brick-and-frame facades contrast with the older, cottage-type homes of the area.
And Burrville may not be a $70,000 neighborhood -- yet.
"People who are looking (in that range) basically want a detached home," said H. J. Amons, whose Delseay Construction Co. did masonry work on the Hunt Place houses. Amons lives in the neighborhood and is a former vice president of the Burrville Civic Association.
Amons calls the neighborhood "the last outpost" of affordable housing in the District "before you get to Maryland."
"A number of speculators have come in and built some shoddy homes," he said, adding that the Kirchiro projects is "better built."
"These are still rowhouses," he pointed out. "A lot of people like to have a yard, they want to be able to get out and walk around the house."
But when it comes to attracting new buyers to Burrville, "the neighborhood environment is a problem," said Knox Banner, executive director of the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development. "In closer-in areas, people pay a premium."
Much of the lure of the older, close-in neighborhoods, he added, is the potential for remodeling older houses. But if the housing isn't capable of being rehabilitated -- which may be the case for small, frame cottages such as Burrville's -- buyers from outside the neighborhood are reluctant. They're more likely, he said, to pick "a glamour place like Capitol Hill."
However, Burrville may be changing. The District is expanding its community development area in far-Northeast to include the Burrville and Deanwood neighborhoods, making residents there eligible for low-interest loans to fix up their houses. Loan funds will go primarily to families earning less than $18,000 a year.
In addition, other firms, such as Froe Properties, are building houses in the neighborhood.Froe has put six town houses on Eastern Avenue that are similar to Kirchiros'. The Froe houses, which have just gone on the market, each have three bedrooms and are priced at $69,950.