Tenants push for the City to address ongoing maintenance issues and quality of life concerns
Last Wednesday, officials from the City of Alexandria, Virginia performed a site visit at the Southern Towers apartment complex. Tenants of the property, supported by African Communities Together (ACT), invited the officials as part of a larger effort to center tenant voices and encourage immediate City action to address the affordability and habitability concerns plaguing tenants.
City officials including Vice Mayor Amy Jackson; Council members Aliya Gaskins, Canek Aguirre, and Sarah Bagley; Stephen Koenig from the Planning Commission; and Christian Brandt from the Department of Planning and Zoning were among those in attendance. Officials visited four apartments in an attempt to better understand the issues plaguing tenants and later gathered in the park on the property to further discuss tenant needs and possible solutions.
“I, along with my colleagues, participated in the site visit at Southern Towers to hear directly from tenants about their lived experiences and concerns with housing in our city,” Council member Alyia Gaskins said. “I attended with my two small children and upon entering one of the units with mold, my youngest began to cough…and cough…and cough. As a mother and a council member, I do not want anyone living in conditions that compromise their health, safety, and stability. One of our duties as council members is to protect the residents of Alexandria, and while we have made great steps in the right direction, there is clearly still a lot more to do.”
Southern Towers, a 2,000+ unit apartment complex in Alexandria, has long been an affordable housing option, especially for immigrants and working class families. The majority of its residents are Black, with a significant portion being foreign-born, primarily from Sub-Saharan Africa. In the face of gentrification and alleged predatory housing practices by their landlord, private equity firm CIM Group, residents are currently struggling to remain in their homes.
CIM Group, a private equity real estate company from Los Angeles, acquired Southern Towers in 2020 for a significant sum of $506 million, with financial backing from Freddie Mac and investments from public pension funds. This transaction was one of the largest in the multifamily real estate sector in 2020.
Since the private equity takeover, Southern Towers tenants have faced challenges with increases in rent and housing costs, eviction filings during the eviction moratorium, and poor maintenance.
“Finding affordable housing in Alexandria is becoming increasingly difficult,” said Sosseh Prom, Housing Justice Director at African Communities Together. “Rent prices are increasing while wages struggle to keep up, and Black and Brown families are more likely to be priced out of the city. For the tenants at Southern Towers, not only are they fighting against rising housing costs pushing them out of their homes, but they also are forced to combat their property owner’s predatory actions and failure to properly address ongoing maintenance problems that impact their quality of life. The situation is becoming dire and tenants cannot fight alone. They need the support of the local, state, and federal government in their battle against displacement.”
African Communities Together (ACT) is a national nonprofit dedicated towards improving the lives of African immigrants in the United States, and empowers African immigrants to integrate socially, advance economically and engage civically.