Fairfax Cites Progress Against Crowded Homes

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nearly three months after launching a crackdown on crowded housing and other neighborhood problems, Fairfax County officials say that they have made progress but that the plodding pace of litigation and the ease with which new violations can unravel cases thought to be closed pose challenges.

The work of the county's "Enhanced Code Enforcement Strike Team," formed this spring after a surge of complaints, has resulted in three prosecutions and 31 other cases in which problems were remedied without court action. An additional 127 cases are under active investigation.

"We've made a lot of progress. We also understand that we have a lot more work to do," Deputy County Executive Robert A. Stalzer told more than 300 people Tuesday night during a meeting of the Springfield Civic Association.

Many Springfield neighborhoods, with a mix of relatively inexpensive 1950s ranch houses and new mini-mansions, have attracted increasing numbers of immigrant families and day laborers seeking rented rooms. Those areas, in the county's Lee District, have been a major source of complaints about crowding, illegal home additions, abandoned vehicles and trash.

The stepped-up enforcement comes as illegal immigration continues to resonate as a local political issue. Fairfax officials are under mounting pressure from neighboring jurisdictions to take a more aggressive approach. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has passed a resolution directing police to check the immigration status of crime suspects, and Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) said last week that Fairfax risks becoming "the illegal immigrant sanctuary in Northern Virginia, particularly for the criminal element."

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) has said he wants the county's efforts focused "on outcomes and behavior," not immigration status. Stalzer essentially reinforced that view Tuesday for the overwhelmingly white audience at Crestwood Elementary School.

In Fairfax and most other Virginia localities, no more than four people unrelated by blood or marriage can live in a single-family house. Families can have no more than two nonmembers in permanent residence.

Asked whether the county had help from federal immigration authorities in determining family relationships, Stalzer said that was "not a part of the strike team's effort."

County officials told Springfield residents that there was no quick fix to the crowding problem and that investigations and court action take time.

"You can see from the open cases that we're not there yet," Stalzer said. "We've got a number of open cases, and we've got to get some success with those."

One strike team leader said some of the cases that have been successfully closed, either with court action or voluntary compliance, are likely to reopen as new tenants and owners emerge at a property.

"I expect it to happen," said David McKernan, deputy chief of the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department and a strike team leader.

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