In 2020, private equity firm the CIM Group purchased the Southern Towers apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia. CIM receives funding from several pension funds including the Pennsylvania Public School’s Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), and the Arizona State Retirement System. Tenants have been organizing with the nonprofit African Communities Together (ACT); a nonprofit dedicated to the empowerment of African immigrants in the United States.
On October 14th, residents at Southern Towers began to observe flooding on the property. By October 15th, tenants were forced to relocate. This flooding comes just a few weeks after a visit to the property by Alexandria City Council members. Council members were on site at the property to investigate ongoing complaints by residents about unaddressed maintenance requests about several issues including mold. The flooding was covered in local news outlets such as DC News Now, and Annandale Today.
DC News Now interviewed displaced resident Loren Dipina who is a mother of two.
Speaking to reporters, Loren is quoted as saying “my husband and I, we work hard to give our kids the best. We work so hard to leave affordable housing to live somewhere we’re paying rent and we thought things would be different.” Residents interviewed in the article also claim that flooding happens consistently due to the air conditioning units on the property.
Another family profiled by DC News Now states in the article that their car was recently stolen while on the property. After dealing with the flooding, the family of seven told reporters that they intend to end their lease, and are quoted saying “we decided we can’t live here anymore so we cut the lease short.”
Annandale Today wrote an article about the flooding as well, featuring pictures supplied by the tenants.
The article claims “The flood started in an apartment on the eighth floor of the Sherwood building on Saturday, Oct. 14, resulting in significant damage to about 14 units on the first through the eighth floors. The apartments had one to two inches of standing water, resulting in warped flooring, electricity outages, and damaged walls.”
In the article, Sosseh Prom ACT’s Housing Justice Director praises the quick response from local officials about the issues.
“They immediately jumped to action,” she said, explaining that Mayor Justin Wilson contacted her asking how the city could help the tenants. She said she has also been in touch with Councilmember Aliya Gaskins. “It seems like they are paying attention to this issue and they are taking it seriously.”
However, tenants featured in the article questioned why CIM was not immediately responsive to the flooding.
“According to ACT, after the flooding began at 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, tenants attempted to contact emergency staff but didn’t get a response and staff didn’t show up to inspect the units. CIM didn’t send an official communication until Monday morning and didn’t begin handing out keys to other units until Monday evening. A couple of tenants didn’t receive keys until Tuesday morning; one household spent the night in their car.”
Determined to let CIM investors know about these pressing issues, on October 19th, Sosseh Prom spoke at the PSERS Investment Board meeting. During public comment, Prom used the opportunity to inform the board of the flooding, and also the numerous incidents that occurred on the property since the last time ACT met with the board. ACT will continue to inform other CIM investors of the issues on-site, particularly as it relates to people’s health and safety.
Pension funds that continue to invest in CIM while events such as floods, mold, and inquiries from local and federal officials take place at Southern Towers, run the reputational risk of being viewed as responsible for the mistreatment of the tenants. This flooding incident and CIM’s response to it is just another example of the firm receiving bad press in regards to Southern Towers.