Private equity firm CIM Group in 2020 acquired Southern Towers, a collection of large apartment buildings in Alexandria, Virginia with more than 2,300 units that is home to many African immigrants, and has since filed to evict residents despite the ongoing pandemic.
Residents of the Southern Towers sent a letter to CIM Group investors, including the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the San Francisco Employee Retirement System, the Arizona State Retirement System and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. With hundreds of families facing the threat of eviction, the tenants asked CIM investors for assistance in halting residents’ displacement.
As new applications to Virginia’s rent relief program closed on May 15, Southern Towers residents, organized with African Communities Together, are concerned they will be displaced by CIM Group. African Communities Together is an organization of African immigrants fighting for civil rights, opportunity, and a better life for African families in the U.S. and worldwide.
Over the course of the pandemic and economic crisis, CIM obtained over $441,000 in legal judgments against families unable to pay their rent and has brought hundreds of eviction actions against Southern Towers residents, according to African Communities Together.
Tenants also expressed outrage at CIM’s failure to address maintenance issues at Southern Towers.
Despite repeated attempts by the tenant group to meet with CIM to cooperatively discuss the evictions and long-term affordability issues at Southern Towers, the company told tenants it will only meet “one-on-one” with individual residents.
Ikram, a tenant leader from Morocco, said, “I have lived in Southern Towers for 14 years. I met my husband and gave birth and raised my kids in Southern Towers. I was laid off during the pandemic, and later started working part-time. Since I was not making enough to pay rent, I applied for rental assistance in November 2021. I was approved for the months of January, February and March of 2022. RRP (the rental assistance program) confirmed to me that they have sent the payment to CIM. But CIM said they never received the money. So I sent them the confirmation letter from RRP. But they still sent me a 14-day pay-or-quit notice, and on top of that, charged me for late fees. It is not fair.”
When tenants like Ikram were laid off due to COVID, CIM pursued aggressive eviction practices including imposing late payment fees and initiating court proceedings. A statewide eviction moratorium and the rent relief program have helped to keep tenants in their homes. However, these eviction protections will end on June 30 – opening the floodgates to eviction proceedings that could put hundreds of families at risk of homelessness. With CIM seeking to profit from the new Amazon headquarters just miles away, tenants are already facing unsustainable rent increases.
CIM Group acquired the 2,261 unit Southern Towers apartment complex in August 2020 for $506 million, one of the largest multi-family transactions that year. The real estate firm has secured over $4 billion in commitments from large pension funds serving public employees, teachers, and firefighters. With many Southern Towers residents also working in public service, the group is hopeful these investors will call upon CIM to stop displacing residents and meet to discuss a solution that ensures families can have secure, healthy homes.
Southern Towers has been a home to a majority of African immigrant tenants for decades.
CIM has displaced other tenants in other low-income immigrant communities. Bloomberg in April reported on CIM Group’s displacement of residents in Los Angeles’ West Adams neighborhood.
CIM is reportedly seeking to more than double its money in just six years with an annual thirteen percent return on the Southern Towers’ investment. Given this ambitious investment goal, immigrant residents are deeply concerned that they will be displaced.