On August 29th, tenants, community members, and faith leaders staged a protest and vigil at the Southern Towers Apartment Complex in Alexandria, Virginia. The action marked the third anniversary since private equity firm CIM Group purchased the property, resulting in numerous instances of tenant mistreatment. CIM’s purchase received financial backing from Freddie Mac, along with significant investments by pension funds. What was previously viewed as a safe haven for African immigrants and blue-collar families has been saddled with mass eviction filings during the eviction moratorium, and predatory actions by CIM such as unaddressed health and safety complaints, and significant increases in housing costs. African Communities Together (ACT) helped coordinate the rally, where tenants spoke about their long-standing complaints with CIM.
Southern Towers also received a site visit by Alexandria City Council in response to the living conditions at Southern Towers. 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.
Councilmember Aliya Gaskins was immediately impacted by the mold within some of the units.
“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.”
Motivated by her visit to Southern Towers, Councilmember Gaskins wrote a letter to Bethany Chang and Jerry Thomas of CIM urging them to address the ongoing issues at the site. Gaskins said that through her role she was able to hear and observe numerous complaints by residents including “inconsistent cooling systems,” “subpar resolutions to maintenance requests,” and tenants being unable to access detailed copies of their utility bills, which goes against Virginia Code. In her letter, Gaskins states that what she observed was “unacceptable,” and said that there was “still much to do to address the concerns residents have raised to the Council.”
The visit was also part of a larger effort by the City of Alexandria to center tenant voices and encourage immediate city action to address the affordability and habitability concerns plaguing tenants. In the City of Alexandria, CIM is gaining a reputation for being the subject of an extensive list of complaints by tenants. This reputational risk could impact future investments by CIM, along with profitability for pensioners whose money is being invested in the firm. As investors in CIM, we urge you to halt all future investments and also push the firm to address the poor conditions at Southern Towers.