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Diamond Village inhabitants yet to receive housing offers, city forms incentive program

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown Communications Manager Andrew Stacy said Thursday that there have been no housing offers made to the inhabitants of the Diamond Village homeless encampment.

Further, Stacy said there has yet to be anybody moved out of the encampment, though “some may have left on their own accord.”

On Aug. 18, Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli laid out a plan to remove the encampment, which has been located on city property near Pennsylvania Avenue since mid-July.

The cornerstone of that plan is registering the camp’s inhabitants and offering housing to each before ultimately clearing the site.

Stacy said that process is underway.

“The WV Coalition to End Homelessness and Bartlett House have registered 25 people at Diamond Village. They are currently working to gather additional information (such as individual needs, etc.) before housing offers are made to those 25 individuals,” he said.

There are currently between 10 and 16  housing units available, according to Stacy.

“However, those units may not fit the needs of the individuals at Diamond Village. We need to make sure the housing fits the needs of the individual to help make the transition successful.”

In an effort to increase the stock of housing options, the city unveiled the details of landlord incentive program on Thursday.

Morgantown City Council recently passed on first reading a budget amendment that, among other things, earmarked $20,250 for the program.

Through the program, participating landlords would be entitled to a leasing bonus ($500), an application reimbursement ($25), a damage claim reimbursement ($1,500).

Assistance with security deposits would be provided through the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness and Bartlett House. Those two agencies would also provide case management for the newly housed.

Landlords interested in participating or seeking additional information can contact WVCEH at 304-476-4717 or Bartlett Housing Solutions at 304-282-2278.

In order to be eligible, the initial lease must be 12 months and the units must be in Morgantown. The units must also pass inspection, be registered with the city’s code enforcement office and have no outstanding violations.

The program’s launch comes in tandem with the formation of a special committee.

According to an email circulated Thursday by Mayor Ron Dulaney, the committee’s goal will be to “better support and facilitate recovery for the individuals experiencing homelessness and/or addiction as well as the agencies supporting them, and to develop city policies for addressing the challenges associated with these conditions.”

The city’s most recent efforts regarding its unhoused population — and Diamond Village in particular — come as another West Virginia city faces legal action for its handling of encampments.

The ACLU of West Virginia filed suit against the city of Wheeling on Wednesday to stop the removal of encampments, which, according to the ACLU press release, could proceed as early as today.

The press release notes, “[Wheeling] has offered no alternative housing solutions to the people it intends to displace.”

Asked Thursday if the ACLU-WV believes the city of Morgantown is acting unlawfully, ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark offered the following:

“Poverty is not a crime, and we hope that this action in Wheeling will cause municipalities across the state to consider how they can best serve encampment communities without violating people’s rights to due process and privacy. We continue to monitor the situation in Morgantown as details emerge.”