Va. City Suspends ‘Family’ Rule

Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2006

Manassas has suspended enforcement of an ordinance that makes it illegal in most cases for extended relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins to live together as a family, city officials said yesterday.

The City Council is considering its options, including the possibility of repealing the ordinance, which was overwhelmingly affecting Latino residents and has been harshly criticized in recent days by civil rights and fair housing groups.

“Our responsibility is to protect the safety, health and well being of our citizens,” council member J. Steven Randolph (I) said after a meeting with the city manager last night. “But how we do that is limited by a number of factors. We are sworn, and rightfully so, to support the state and federal constitution, and we have to make sure that what we do is reasonable and not arbitrary.”

Earlier in the day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia announced it would challenge the ordinance, calling it “an unconstitutional government infringement” on the rights of families and a tool to target families based on nationality.

The ordinance, adopted Dec. 5, changed a definition of family in the city’s zoning code so that with few exceptions single-family homes in Manassas were restricted to immediate relatives, even if the total number was below the legal occupancy limit. The council plans to discuss the ordinance at a public meeting Monday night.

The rule was being enforced only when complaints about infractions were received, and overwhelmingly, city officials said, complaints in the tidy, mostly white suburb were aimed at members of the city’s rapidly growing Latino population, often immigrants living with extended relatives to help defray housing costs.

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Meanwhile, on the Internet, the cause of the Manassas ordinance was taken up by a group called American Renaissance, which advocates white nationalism.

“I just emailed Mayor [Douglas] Waldron and the Manassas City Council to congratulate them on their COURAGE and INTEGRITY in defending their city against the Mexican invasion,” one person wrote in a posting on the group’s Web site.

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