The city of Manassas plans to cut a position that helps residents with a host of housing issues as a part of a budget plan that the City Council is expected to adopt on Monday.
The housing advocate position was created as part of a 2008 lawsuit settlement that claimed that Manassas officials discriminated against Hispanics as it cracked down on overcrowded dwellings. Some had complained of overnight raids and intrusive tactics.
The city was sued by the District-based Equal Rights Center and the School Board, and the Department of Justice began an investigation. Manassas officials agreed to hire a housing advocate as part of the settlement. The city is no longer required to pay for the position, officials said.
Mickey Rhoades, the current advocate, has organized workshops to help area homeowners get housing mortgage loan modifications, worked to ensure that those in foreclosure were treated fairly and helped renters negotiate with landlords. As part of the settlement, she also handles discrimination complaints related to housing.
Rhoades said that it’s a particularly bad time to cut her position, as Manassas has just begun planning to revitalize dilapidated neighborhoods.
“How are we going to handle this next step?” Rhoades asked.
Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II (R) said that Rhoades’s position has been cut to help bring down the city’s proposed tax increase. He said that the city has a neighborhood services division that can carry out efforts to revitalize certain areas.
“Ultimately, like everything else when you’re talking dollars and cents, it becomes a matter of priorities,” he said.
The overcrowding ordinance that was the subject of scrutiny is no longer in effect, Parrish said. He said he was not aware of any substantial discrimination complaints made against the city.
Lauren Monroe, 43, of Manassas credits Rhoades with helping her navigate an extremely stressful situation as her house faces foreclosure. Monroe said she and her husband earn good salaries but have fallen on hard times while struggling to pay for medical treatment for their 10-year-old son, who suffers from mental illness.
“The stress is unbelievable,” she said.
Rhoades has helped them fight foreclosure and apply for a modification with their bank. The outcome is still pending. Rhoades “just literally rescued us by pointing us in the direction to go,” Monroe said.
Under the budget that City Council is expected to formally adopt on Monday, the average residential tax bill would be $3,108, a 7.1 percent increase. It provides for significant capital investments.
Donald L. Kahl, the executive director of the Equal Rights Center, which had filed the lawsuit against Manassas, said he was disappointed to hear the position was on the chopping block.
Cutting the position, he said, “is a disservice not just the Latino community but to the community as a whole.”