Overcrowded housing is emerging as a battleground in the national debate over immigration as towns and counties crack down on landlords who permit many unrelated people to occupy single-family homes.
Local officials in New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Georgia have evicted residents, threatened landlords with fines or jail time or legally narrowed the definition of family to combat a problem they say disrupts neighborhoods.
“Our focus is on health and safety,” says T. Dana Kauffman, a Democratic member of the board of supervisors in Fairfax County, Va., a suburb of Washington. “I’ve seen crawl spaces turned into bedrooms. . . We’ve had people tap into gas lines.”
•In Cobb County, Ga., in suburban Atlanta, commissioners are considering lowering from six to four the maximum number of unrelated people who can live in a single-family home. An influx of immigrants has helped increase the Latino population there from 2.1% in 1990 to 10% in 2004. “We’re talking about a small house,” Rob Hosack, Cobb County’s community development director, says of neighborhood complaints about crowding. “And there’s no way to mask the cars with five unrelated people living there.”
•In Farmingville, N.Y., about 200 tenants, mostly immigrants, were evicted when local officials closed 11 homes last summer.
•The City Council in Manassas, Va., last month barred extended family members, such as nieces and nephews, from living together. The council decided to rescind the ordinance after an outcry by civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.