Alexandria, VA

Real estate investment company CIM Group recently purchased large apartment community Southern Towers, Costar first reported, but what’s unclear now is what that means for affordable housing in the city’s West End.

Southern Towers is a 2,261-unit apartment complex that is one of the city’s last large bastions of market-rate affordable and committed affordable units — units that are required to remain at a certain affordability. Helen McIlvaine, director of the city’s Office of Housing, said Southern Towers has 105 committed affordable units that were mostly established in the mid-2010s.

“They are ten-year units,” McIlvaine said. “Even at that time, property ownership had shifted to the next generation, and they didn’t feel in a position to make a longer term commitment… They’re pretty far into that life span. They have a number of start and end dates, but the last of them expires early 2028.”

Some of those were rented out in 2015 and 2016 and their committed affordable status could disappear in the next couple years.

McIlvaine said the city is maintaining discussions with the CIM Group, but that nothing has been set into stone yet for the property’s committed affordable units.

The city has had a working relationship with the company, which also owns the Mason at Van Dorn units near Landmark Mall.  McIlvaine said the CIM Group has been a cooperative partner in earlier discussions about establishing rent relief for local residents during the pandemic.

“We said our desire was to work with CIM group and continue to support Southern Towers residents that are experiencing income loss,” McIlvaine said.

Southern Towers was the site of protests during the pandemic with local residents pushing to cancel rent for residents who were among the thousands of locals laid off during the government shutdown.

McIlvaine said the discussion about rent relief is still ongoing. The City of Alexandria is offering rental assistance up to $1,800 for those who lost their income due to COVID-19. Those interested in rent relief can contact the city during business hours at 703-746-3100. Qualifying residents must live in Alexandria, have a documented loss of income, have been current on their rent through March, and fall within income eligibility guidelines.

“We’re of course very interested in making sure we work with them closely to make sure we keep residents in their housing now,” McIlvaine. “The prior management company was working well with us, and CIM is working with us well at Mason at Van Dorn, so we’re hoping for a smooth transition.”

McIlvaine said discussions about longer-term plans for the complex’s affordable housing is scheduled to resume once the “dust settles” on the deal. With talk of modernization and upgrades, according to the Washington Business Journal, there are concerns the complex that houses many of the city’s lower-income communities could be gentrified. The city’s supply of market-rate affordable units has been in freefall for years, leaving the city scrambling to secure committed affordable units.

“You see a lot of owners that come in and reposition and renovate and rents go up, McIlvaine said. “We said we were concerned about economic displacement — of course they were receptive to all of that… Whether there are other ways we can collaborate to preserve affordability — that’s obviously what we do — but nothing in this initial conversation was closed down. We are committed to remaining in touch to talk more. There are people who have lived there 30, 40, and 50 years. We want o make sure there are people who are not economically displaced.”

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