Southern Towers residents and workers protest rent hike and health issues

Organizers lead residents in a protest against CIM Group outside Southern Towers (Staff photo by Vernon Miles)

At a rally outside Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road), residents and community activists shared stories of rent hikes and poor living conditions while chanting slogans against property owner CIM Group.

CIM Group bought the buildings in 2020. Relations between tenants and owners had already deteriorated since the pandemic hit, leaving many residents in Southern Towers – one of the last bastions of market-rate affordable housing in Alexandria – without work. Since then, community activists have rushed to try and support residents facing eviction after pandemic-related protections ended.

A dozen residents of Southern Towers were in attendance, along with several community organizers from the African Communities Together (ACT) organization. Bert Bayou, chapter director of the ACT’s DC office, said ACT is working to support local residents, who feel they are being priced out by persistent rent increases in property.

“We’re here to support the tenants,” Bayou said. “For some months we have been trying to negotiate with CIM about the conditions of the building and the increase in rent.”

rent

Bayou said that CIM Group has told residents that the rent has gone up by 3-4 per cent. Bayou said ACT surveyed residents and found an increase of some 9%, although CIM Group cited figures on real estate website Costar that show lower average rent renewals.

“CIM says they want to keep the building as workforce housing, but everything they do is making it ineffective,” Bayou said. “We all see that CIM is trying to get rid of African immigrants.”

Added to the mix are utilities that are no longer included with the rent, meaning residents face additional costs on top of rising rents.

Sose Prohm, state policy manager for African Communities Together, said rents should not increase by more than 2% annually.

“If you, a multi-billion dollar company, are facing these issues: How do you think blue-collar workers feel?” Prom said.

Sami Borma, a resident of Southern Towers, said that beyond the issues of separating utilities from rent, there is no clear answer as to where the figures for the bills are coming from, given that the units do not have separate meters .

“We see an electric bill of $200 for a one bedroom unit or $600 for a three bedroom, but that doesn’t make sense,” Borma said. “CIM says ‘Oh, that’s the market.'”

The CIM Group was not available for interview, but a document sent to ALOXNow states that since Southern Towers is not affiliated with any social service support network, property owners must increase rents in line with the financial obligations of building ownership. are:

The vast majority of Southern Towers residents, 91.5 percent, are currently meeting their rent obligations. Our empathy for residents must be balanced by our fiduciary responsibility. We empathize with residents who face personal struggles. However, Southern Towers is a standard workforce housing community and is not affiliated with any social service support network. As property owners we must meet our financial obligations and fiduciary responsibilities to keep the lights on and the doors open, providing homes for the thousands of residents in the South Towers.

The real estate company said that rents in Alexandria are 20% below the average rental rates and rent increases have been even lower than the average rate, noting that residents renew their leases at the average rates quoted on the real estate website CoStar. showed an increase of 2.7% to leases and a 5.1% increase for new leases.

According to CoStar, South Towers rents are currently about 20 percent below the average rental rates for all apartment properties in the Alexandria area. This equates to around $600 per month on average.

Overall, rents in the Alexandria market rose 12.8 percent in the past year. According to CoStar, rental rates for new leases in Southern Towers increased 5.1 percent during the same period, while existing residents renovating saw a 2.7 percent increase during the same time period.

Beginning October 1, 2022, Southern Towers will freeze rent increases of up to $200 per month for residents in good standing who execute lease renewals through the end of 2022. , With no obligation to upgrade, residents can choose from a range of housing options in the area.

eviction notice

Another sore spot for residents protesting against the CIM group were eviction notices which Prom said were misleading to residents. Prom said CIM is required by federal law to give 30-day eviction notices, but gives only the five-day “pay or quit” notice required by Virginia.

“We saw the notices dated October 9 and court cases were filed 13 days later,” Prom said. “In recent notices, five-day ‘pay or leave’ notices say in small print that tenants may be eligible under the Care Act for 30-day notices, but there is nothing that tells the tenant whether they have that right [in their unit],

CIM Group said this is in compliance with federal law, which requires a landlord to wait 30 days to evict a resident after receiving an eviction notice.

“The Southern Towers fully comply with the CARES Act, which states that a landlord must wait 30 days to evict a resident after receiving notice,” the document states.

According to CIM:

The attorney representing Southern Towers uses the Virginia State Sanctioned Notice of Material Noncompliance for Nonpayment of Rent, also known as Five Notices… Southern Towers Notices at the Appropriate Time and Then Provides this notice to the resident 30 days after issue. Tenant we forward information to Southern Towers Attorney to proceed with an unlawful detainer filing in court. What happens next is entirely up to the court and no longer involves the property owner. The court process is outlined in the attached Virginia eviction flow chart. This process can take months, so it is more than 30 days if a resident must be removed.

health issues

Raleigh residents said they have noticed that rodent and insect infestations have continued or worsened in recent years, as well as ongoing mold issues.

“My child got sick and I took him to the doctor,” said Borma. “The doctor said it could be mold. So we looked at the air conditioning unit: it was full of mold. We started visiting other units and found that 60% of them had mold inside their AC units.

CIM Group said renovation work on the building is underway, but it will take time.

The property owner said, “CIM Group acquired Southern Towers in August 2020 after closely reviewing the condition of these 1960s buildings, which revealed years of delayed maintenance and a long list of improvements needed was.” “Prior to its purchase, CIM Group put in place a comprehensive plan to deal with these issues over time. Today, CIM Group’s multi-million-dollar improvement program is underway, which requires substantial improvements for a property of this size.” Many years will be required to complete the task.

CIM Group said that since taking office they have doubled investment in repairs and maintenance and doubled pest removal contracts. The document states that a community-wide comprehensive pest identification and removal program will be carried out before the end of the year.

The document states that the problems in the air conditioning units are “most likely not mold and mildew” but that an ongoing program to replace leaky windows and ceilings will help alleviate that issue:

A significant achievement of Southern Towers is the successful identification of the root cause of a building leak that has been occurring for more than 20 years. Southern Towers management has fast-tracked the installation of replacement window and roof repairs and replacements. We believe these leaks are responsible for a limited number of mold issues that have been brought to management’s attention and remedied. Southern Towers management is in the process of contracting for an environmental assessment of the complex to identify any additional areas for remediation.

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