Alexandria mayor seeks funds to keep buildings safe after Florida condo collapse

In the wake of a condo collapse in Miami that has claimed at least 90 lives, the mayor of Alexandria is requesting that Virginia’s leaders free up funds to ensure the city’s high-rise buildings are safe.

In a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam last week, Mayor Justin Wilson said he has received numerous questions from Alexandria residents about building safety.

“I think for us in Alexandria, this is an issue that hits us harder than perhaps almost any other community in Virginia, because we have most of the older multifamily buildings that exist in Virginia,” Wilson told WTOP.

He called it a “uniquely Alexandria issue for us.”

“There are approximately 57 high-rise buildings in Alexandria that are at least 40 years old. We have 51 high-rise buildings in the city built without sprinklers, which is the most of any locality in Virginia. Finally, a 2007 Virginia Housing Commission survey of Virginia localities indicated that the City of Alexandria has most of the older high-rise residential building in the Commonwealth,” Wilson wrote in his letter.

He added that Alexandria issued a release about the Commonwealth’s Uniform
Statewide Building Code, inspection requirements for new construction, required periodic inspections of certain systems and the process for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures.

But, Wilson wrote, “There is currently no requirement in Virginia to proactively or regularly inspect building structures and that a building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations to the building that require inspection.”

Wilson is asking that Northam “consider including budget language establishing a work group of stakeholders on the issue of building safety in the Commonwealth in the appropriation bill for the Commonwealth’s tranche of (American Rescue Plan Act) funds that will be considered at the upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly.”

Key proposals include the following:

  • New reporting requirements and transparency regarding current structural findings by homeowners and condominium associations;
  • New authority for local building code officials to require inspections of buildings and structures in their community;
  • A building inspection/recertification process;
  • Emergency requirements that existing older buildings have structural assessments done within the next year.

Wilson said, “We know of nothing that leads us to believe that we have buildings that are at imminent risk of collapse like we saw in in Florida and so I don’t think anybody would feel like they say they are in that situation, that they’re in extreme danger.”

He added that if residents see issues buildings of concern, contact the owner and make sure they’re aware.

“And if you don’t get the right response, reach out to your local building code official, we have our code administration department here in Alexandria. And that’s what they exist for, is to look at these kinds of issues,” Wilson said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the remains of 90 people have been recovered from the ruins of the 12-story Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside. Among them are 71 bodies that have been identified, and their families have been notified. Three young children were among those recently identified.

Crews continued to search the remaining pile of rubble, peeling layer after layer of debris in search of bodies. The unrelenting search has resulted in the recovery of over 14 million pounds of concrete and debris. Some 31 people remain listed as missing Monday morning.

Among the dead is 21-year-old Deborah Berezdivin, a George Washington University student. The GW Hatchet reported Berezdivin was a rising junior and that her boyfriend and relatives were  among those also lost in the building collapse.

WTOP’s Luke Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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