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Alexandria officials say some property owners discriminating over eviction assistance

A rally to extend the moratorium on rent evictions in front of the Alexandria Courthouse on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

During a City Council meeting last night, discussion of a new report shed light on property owners discriminating against residents who received eviction protection aid — a move the city says is illegal.

Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, and housing analyst Kim Cadena shared a report on the specifics of where the city’s housing investments are going.

The report had been part of the consent calendar, items typically approved in a bundle without discussion, but City Council member Sarah Bagley said she pulled the item out of the consent calendar to address an ongoing legal struggle between some property owners and city residents.

In a section about protected classes in Virginia, the section notes that it’s illegal to discriminate based on the source of funding from a renter or buyer of housing, notably including any assistance, benefit or subsidy program.

“One of the questions that I had related to the source of income: is receiving funds from an eviction prevention program, is that a source of income?” Bagley asked. “Can a landlord refuse to take eviction prevention funding from the city or from a church?”

Mcilvaine said that kind of discrimination is something her office has been dealing with recently.

“That issue has come up quite recently because we’re aware of properties in the city that are not renewing leases for households that had been receiving assistance during the pandemic,” McIlvaine said. “We are currently working with the city attorney’s office as well as local counsel. We believe that would be evidence of discrimination.”

Bagley said the issue is worth bringing up so local residents know that, at least from the city’s assessment, it’s likely this kind of discrimination is illegal.

“That’s one of the primary reasons I wanted to call out this presentation,” Bagley said. “I want to encourage people not to hesitate to accept relief if it’s available because it’s our understanding at present that that would fall under the source of income protected class.”

Bagley told ALXnow that the eviction prevention program should help between 50-100 households in Alexandria avoid eviction — and that discrimination for utilizing these funds could be illegal:

The program originally had $100,000 for FY24 but after last night should be at $270,000. The program currently caps household relief at $5,000 per household but given the average payment that fund should assist between 50-100 households avoid eviction (in addition to those who receive support through incredible network of faith based and other community resources in the city).

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