A house that symbolizes for many the contrast of the District's hundreds of homeless families with the city's hundreds of boarded-up houses is for sale, available to the highest bidder, housing activists said this week.
The structure, at 1619 Gales St. NE, stood empty for more than four years until a homeless family broke the lock and moved in last September as part of a squatters campaign to force District and federal authorities to turn over empty properties to homeless families or those who pay most of their income every month for housing.
The squatters, Myrtle and William Edwards, were forced out in December by the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Washington field office.
HUD acquired the house when the former owners defaulted on their federally insured mortgage.
Housing advocates are urging the new city administration of Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and HUD to move swiftly in making government-owned houses available, said Chris Leonard, of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
The association organized the squatters campaign, and now is demanding that none of the foreclosed houses in low-income neighborhoods be sold at market rates, but at prices poor families and nonprofit groups can afford.
The current price tag on the Gales Street house is about $75,000, according to I. Toni Thomas, head of HUD's Washington field office.
A D.C. spokeswoman said this week city officials hope to reach an agreement with federal authorities on a price the city can afford to pay for foreclosed properties.
The District has asked HUD to sell the houses for $25,000 or less, said Debra Daniels, spokeswoman for the District's Department of Housing and Community Development.
Federal officials told the District several months ago that the city would have to pay market rates for the foreclosed houses, rates the city could not afford, according to Daniels.
Negotiations are ongoing, however, and the District hopes to negotiate a lower price, she said, adding that "it's still an active issue."
Thomas said the department wants to develop a program for turning over HUD houses to the city. She said she would wait for "some communication from the mayor" asking for the properties.
Thomas said she forced the Edwards family out of the Gales Street house by changing the locks because "we are obligated to preserve the property and we are liable if anything happens to those people" while they are in the house.
The house is one of 26 the District leased from HUD at a rate of $1 a month per structure for use in a program to help homeless families buy houses.
But D.C. officials shut down the program, known as Family Uplift, in October after finding only 12 qualified families in a year of searching. There are an estimated 300 homeless families in the District.
To qualify for the program, a homeless family was required to have at least one member who was employed and enough income to pay monthly utility bills.
The family also was required to deposit about 30 percent of its income into an escrow account each month, with the aim of saving enough money to buy the home.
Nine houses were returned to HUD's Washington office, which will list them for sale after getting appraisals, according to Thomas. She said she told the District they could lease the remaining five houses to low-income families.
Currently, HUD owns a total of 118 single-family homes in the city, acquired through foreclosures. Of the number, 26 are for sale and 37 are being purchased but the paperwork is not complete, she said. The remaining homes are not available because of unclear titles, the presence of lead paint, or are newly acquired and being readied for sale.