Overflowing Fairfax Homes Split Neighbors

By Bill Turque and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Harry Gault doesn't think of the small ranch home next door as a hot-button political issue in this year's Fairfax County election or realize how frequently his complaint is heard throughout the region.

"I don't mind an Hispanic neighborhood," said Gault, 73. "But they've turned a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home into a nine-room boarding house."

Long a source of tension in the suburbs, where high prices force many immigrants to pool financial resources and share housing, residential crowding has generated a surge of complaints in Fairfax, a county where one in four residents is foreign-born.

With the entire Fairfax Board of Supervisors up for reelection this year, this issue, which has raised ire in communities across the Washington area, has taken on a hard edge among voters riled by single homes that have been converted to house eight or 10 adults. Suddenly, multiple cars clog driveways designed in the 1950s for one or two vehicles. Trucks park on narrow streets, making them difficult to navigate in the morning and evening. And in the 24-7 service economy -- where nine-to-five is only one of several shifts and workdays begin and end at all hours -- workers and their vehicles are in the streets day and night.

"These are changes in neighborhoods, and change is sometimes hard to manage," said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), whose district includes large communities of Koreans in Annandale, Vietnamese in Seven Corners and Latinos in Baileys Crossroads. "It's a different model. A transition from the nuclear Caucasian family to the ethnic extended family."

Gross's Republican opponent, Filipino business executive Vellie Dietrich-Hall, has been relatively quiet on the subject. Neighborhood groups have not. One recurring theme is that the supervisors turn a blind eye to crowding because they depend on campaign contributions from real estate interests.

"Enough is enough. These frauds need to go!" Rick Gordon of the Lakewood neighborhood, said in a statement he distributed to his neighbors.

Under pressure to respond, Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin formed a multi-agency "strike force" of inspectors last month to tighten enforcement of overcrowding laws as part of a larger crackdown on zoning violations.

"We have the tools. We need to get our knuckles bloody using them," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), an outspoken critic of the county's enforcement effort.

Others fear that the enforcement could harm law-abiding immigrant families. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year found that the city of Manassas's attempt to curb crowded housing did just that.

"We'd be concerned about civil liberties and racial profiling," said Jon Liss, executive director of Tenants and Workers United, a Northern Virginia nonprofit organization that organizes low-income families around economic and social justice issues. "In general, this kind of stuff is targeting immigrants who have bought their homes and who are in pursuit of the American dream."

The growing anger on both sides is palpable.

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