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Fairfax County leaders aim to crack down on housing discrimination

A rally to extend the moratorium on rent evictions in front of the Alexandria Courthouse on July 1, 2020 (staff photo by James Cullum)

For years, Fairfax County leaders have been using carrots to encourage property owners to adhere to the county’s Human Rights Ordinance. Now, some of them want to start using the stick.

During a meeting on Tuesday (May 16) discussing the Metropolitan Washington Regional Fair Housing Plan, staff laid out how Fairfax County fits into a regional push for more affordable housing and better protections for residents.

In addition to regional goals, the plan includes specific goals for each locality in the region. For Fairfax County, that includes enforcement of the Human Rights Ordinance passed back in 2010.

The 46-page ordinance has a detailed list of prohibited forms of housing discrimination, including employment or credit, as well as protection against retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said, given that it’s been 13 years since the Human Rights Ordinance was passed, it’s high time to take the gloves off and double down on enforcement.

“We’re doing the testing, we’re identifying where we need to do more work; I’m all for that, but frankly, at some point, we have to do real law enforcement,” Alcorn said. “We’re going to have to pivot. If we’re not making progress, it’s time to take a more aggressive law enforcement stance with this. If we don’t see progress moving forward, I think we’d want to see an option for a more aggressive law enforcement approach.”

Amanda Schlener said Fairfax County publishes testing reports every two years and the most recent, from fiscal year 2022, indicated the county filed 22 enforcement complaints against private companies. Of those, 11 were settled for monetary conciliation agreements.

Fairfax County isn’t alone in seeing housing discrimination. Alexandria officials recently shared that property owners have evicted residents for receiving public assistance.

Staff also said the county could do more to let local residents know about their rights.

“Sometimes people are not 100% sure of what their rights are,” said Deputy County Executive Ellicia Seard-McCormick. “The carrot is in teaching people what we’re trying to achieve.”

Overall, the plan includes seven regional goals and eight local goals. The local goals are:

  1. Increase home-ownership opportunities
  2. Increase housing choice for voucher holders
  3. Deliver more affordable housing
  4. Preserve multi-family and manufactured units
  5. Increase awareness of existing and upcoming affordable homeownership and rental opportunities in communities of color and other vulnerable communities.
  6. Increase community awareness of Fair Housing rights by developing and providing new Fair Housing training and outreach activities.
  7. Enforce the Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance through testing-initiated complaints that identify areas of concern.
  8. Increase the accessibility of fair housing services for individuals with disabilities and for whom English is not their first language.

The plan also has proposed actions to achieve the goals, like co-locating housing with public facilities on county-owned sites and developing closer relationships with community organizations that can help reach out to non-English-speaking communities.

“This is not the be-all, end-all of our affordable housing policy…but this document is indeed very valuable,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We can have the best goals in the world, but if we don’t have strategies and implementation and monitoring, we’re stuck not knowing what progress we’re making.”

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