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Legislative discussion highlights Alexandrians’ struggle with rising rents

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

As the City of Alexandria gets ready to kick off its advocacy for the upcoming general assembly session, one of the main talking points is how the city could use more help from the state in handling affordable housing.

Meronne Teklu, speaking on behalf of the Economic Opportunities Commission, the Landlord-Tenant Relations Board and the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee, told the City Council this weekend that each of the groups expressed concerns about the rising rate of evictions.

Teklu said that this year, there were 873 eviction notices filed, a roughly 172% increase from 2021 — when many landlords were legally prohibited from filing evictions. Of those being evicted, Teklu said only 13% of tenants receive legal representation.

Additionally, a count of Alexandrians experiencing homeleness recorded 120 people, an increase of 13% over the previous year.

“We’re glad to see legislative packet prioritizes legislation to provide diverse housing opportunities and budget items preventing evictions, protecting families and individuals facing various housing challenges,” Teklu said.

Among those positive priorities in the legislative package, Teklu said, is a reinstatement of a 14-day requirement to pay-0or-quit notices.

Teklu’s commentary was underscored by testimony by testimony from residents of Southern Towers — a largely workforce-affordable housing complex in the West End where rent increases are outpacing wages.

Residents of Southern Towers spoke at the City Council and described the dire situation of residents working multiple jobs and still being unable to keep up with rent payments in one of the city’s last bastions of market affordable housing.

Sami Bourma said residents are putting together a new organization called Southern Towers United.

“it’s not easy to do so, with most of us working two jobs with up to five family members,” Bourma said. “For most of us, our rent is not what the city would call naturally affordable. In the West End, affordable [qualifies as] an income up to 60% of the area median income. I have five family members, and I do not come close to that level of income even if I had two members… and I have two jobs.”

Other residents said called the situation in Southern Towers “inhumane” and begged the City Council to intervene. Bourma said the hopes to get the developer to not increase rents above 2% annually. Residents and community organizers protested against building owners The CIM Group last month.

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