After making changes in the proposal, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved an experimental program last week that will provide low-income people with moving and storage of personal goods as part of city eviction procedures.
Under the program, which is slated to begin in October, financial counseling for those facing eviction will be required through the Alexandria housing office and the city will oversee removal of their goods to a storage facility, storage for as long as 90 days, and then moving the goods to a new location.
Alexandria's Landlord Tenant Relations Board recommended the project a month ago in an effort to meet the needs of the nearly 425 people evicted annually from rental units in the city. Both landlord and tenant representatives supported the idea but were split on how the program should be financed, an issue the city council put on the back burner.
The council, unwilling to appropriate tax revenue to an experimental program, decided to use $10,000 Alexandria gets through federal emergency jobs legislation, which allows some funds to be spent on support services for the unemployed.
Members of the Landlord Tenant Relations Board said that if the program were successful they would work in the coming months to find a nonprofit charity in the city to collect private, tax-deductible donations to support the program.
Mark Looney, supervisor of the city's Landlord Tenant Relations Office, said that because landlords get a financial break under the program--they no longer will have to hire crews to remove tenants' furniture--they will be asked to contribute.
But it appears unlikely that the landlords will agree to any proposal that requires them as a group to contribute to the program.
Don Slatton, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association, said that landlords in Alexandria would support the program only if it placed no legal or financial responsibility on apartment owners and did not delay the eviction process.
"Just because we are the owners of these buildings doesn't mean we should be responsible for relieving the problems," said Slatton. "The problem is a commuity-wide problem and has nothing to do with us."
Early proposals suggested by tenant representatives on the landlord-tenant board sought to finance the moving and storage of evicted tenants' goods through a fee paid by the landlord, but landlord representatives refused to support such an arrangement and suggested that evicted tenants be required to pay the costs instead.
One of the changes the city council offered was to have the landlord-tenant board look into having evicted tenants pay back part of the costs of moving and storage, a measure supported by Slatton.
His group suggested that the tenant be required to sign an acknowledgement of indebtedness to the city and agree to partial repayment, which could be funneled back into the program.
Looney said the board would consider incorporating such a provision into the program this summer as it works to get the program in place. He said it also would need to look at the legality of its proposal to donate unclaimed goods to an Alexandria charity. Looney said the city might have to auction those goods off instead of giving them to the needy.
Despite the lack of long-term financing for the program, representatives from landlord and tenant groups said they were pleased with the council's support of the proposal and that they did not think it would be difficult to find long-term financing once the program got started.
"It is more than just a storage program, because it will get the city involved in counseling people before they are evicted," said Bill Noonan, treasurer of Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically, the charity designated in the program to distribute any unclaimed furniture. "It will be a great benefit for the people of Alexandria, and I think we will find contributors."