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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Defining "Family"

Today's NY Times Magazine has a story about tensions arising from extended immigrant families living in the same home:

Manassas has seen a rapid influx of immigrants over the last decade. As in suburbs and smaller cities elsewhere, this has created quality-of-life complaints. Sometimes the outrage is over the jornaleros who gather at Home Depots to solicit daywork. Elsewhere, the gripe concerns overcrowding. One 23-year-old Mexican told The Palm Beach Post a couple of years ago that he, too, thought 10 unrelated workers living in a two-bedroom apartment was too much. "Eight people — three in each bedroom and two in the living room — that should be the maximum," he said. This is the problem in Manassas.

When crowding becomes commonplace, neighborhoods change. Parking disappears, and mountains of trash appear on the sidewalk on collection day. Between June 2004 and June 2005, The Washington Post reported, Manassas used its zoning code to move 400 people out of crowded single-family houses. But complaints persisted that huge, multigenerational extended families, including distant and sometimes dubious cousins, were making virtual boardinghouses out of homes built for a couple and two kids.

Manassas could not change the rules on how much living space each resident requires; those are set by the state. But the city can regulate how buildings are used. So in early December, Manassas tightened its definition of the adjective "family" in terms like "single-family home." Whereas the old code defined "family" as pretty much any group of people related by blood or marriage, the new definition limited it to immediate relatives of the homeowner. Parents, children and siblings were family; uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews were not. . . .

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, handed a rare opportunity to cast its foes as un-American, was planning to sue Manassas not just because it "targets families based on their nationality" but also for "an unconstitutional government infringement on the right of family members to live together." The new ordinance began to look like a losing hand. In January, the city repealed it.

The story might make an interesting teaching tool to supplement Moore v. East Cleveland or cases on defining "single family" in a covenant.

The Saint Louis Post Dispatch also has a story on a similar issue involving a family being denied an occupancy permit because the parents were not married:

Black Jack's ordinance applies to unmarried couples with children. Under the law, a home cannot be inhabited by three or more individuals not related by "blood, marriage or adoption."

The ordinance recently has come under scrutiny because of Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving. The couple purchased a five-bedroom, three-bath house in Black Jack and moved into the home last month with their three children.

But the couple was denied an occupancy permit because their household failed to meet the city's definition of family.

Ben Barros

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