Alexandria city officials, concerned about the number of apartments that bar or restrict families with children, have begun the process of amending city ordinances to prevent discrimination against them.
The city's Office of Human Rights is now drafting a report outlining the child housing issue and possible solutions. It will be sent to City Council in December.
Of approximately 25,000 rental apartments available in the city, about 8,000 bar children and another 9,000 put severe restrictions on them, such as allowing one child only for each bedroom. Such restrictions effectively keep out families with children, officials said.
"We're going to protect families with children. We were ready to do this a year ago, but the state amended the laws to authorize all-adult units," said Alexandria human rights administrator Stephen M. Levinson.
Levinson would not comment on the wording of the proposed changes in the human rights ordinance, but the proposals must be discussed by the council and set before a public hearing before the council votes on them.
At a recent public hearing of the Alexandria Human Rights Commission, The Northern Virginia Apartment Association, which represents landlords in Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington, opposed the city's attempts to gain more rental housing for families with children.
Although agreeing that these families have a difficult time finding housing, the association said in its November newsletter that the views of adults who want an environment free of children must also be respected. Bruce Carlson, the group's legislative counsel, suggested "the lack of a growing dynamic rental housing market" has caused the lack of apartments that take children.
"There is a market for all-adult communities. We're meeting a market need," said Donald Slatton, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, whose members run over 200,000 apartment units in the area. "State law also gives us the legal ability to establish reasonable occupancy standards."
Slatton also questioned the city's figures on apartments that bar or restrict children. "We think there's plenty of housing," he said.
Even if city ordinances are changed to ease the housing crunch for families with children, recent state laws allowing "all-adult" rental housing still must be adhered to.
In July a change in the state fair housing laws took effect. The 1984 Virginia General Assembly had amended the laws that protect the "parenthood class" from rental housing discrimination because of children to allow buildings that would be all-adult or all-elderly.
"It is not a violation of fair housing laws," said Florrie Brassier, fair housing administrator in Virginia's Department of Commerce.
The city also hopes to ease the child-discrimination and other housing problems by other means.
Two years ago the city formed the Coalition for Housing Opportunities for Families, made up of several City Council-appointed committees including the Human Rights Commission, the Economic Opportunity Commission, Landlord-Tenant Relations Board, Social Services Advisory Board and the Committee on the Status of Women.
In addition to calling for local human rights and housing ordinances to be amended, the coalition has made several proposals for statewide legislation at the coming General Assembly. The first calls for the creation of a "housing trust fund" that would draw interest from an escrow account made up of deposits that prospective home owners give to real estate companies before actually closing an agreement.
The interest accrued, which some estimate could be from $10 to $30 million annually, could be used to subsidize housing for low-income families, who are often the hardest hit by apartments restricting children, said Jack Powers, executive director of the economic opportunity division of the city's Department of Human Services, who heads the coalition.
"The problem is greater among low-income families," but child discrimination exists across the board, from low-rent walkups to high-rent luxury apartments, Powers said.