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Senators Warner and Kaine task Southern Towers owners to resolve eviction conflict with residents

(Updated at 11 a.m. on June 29) U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to CIM Group highlighting the concerns of residents regarding evictions, increased rents and living conditions at their Southern Towers Apartments complex.

In a letter Monday, the Virginia Democrats urged the building owner to resolve long standing disputes with residents. Since buying the property at the height of the pandemic in 2020, residents have protested against evictions, claiming that CIM Group has raised rents and evicted hundreds of residents from deteriorating properties.

“Tenants have shared with our offices that, under CIM ownership, they have been subjected to eviction filings during the eviction moratorium, changes in how utilities are billed combined with rent increases that have led to substantial price hikes, and unaddressed maintenance issues that pose health and safety risks,” the senators wrote. “Further, tenants have voiced that CIM issued unclear eviction notices indicating that tenants who were late on their rent payments had only five days to ‘pay rent or, alternatively, to terminate lease and vacate premises’ – only mentioning later in the notice that tenants located on a ‘covered property’ as defined by the CARES Act were entitled to a 30-day notice before vacating.”

Protests against CIM Group have been led by the People’s Actions Homes Guarantee campaign and African Communities Together (ACT), which say that Southern Towers residents are at the mercy of a major private equity landlord that only cares about profit.

Consequently, last month Southern Towers also got a visit from the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

CIM Group says that they only 31 residents have been evicted due to non-payment, and that living conditions have improved under their ownership.

CIM Group sent ALXnow the following statement:

CIM Group has long been a proud member of the Alexandria, VA community as the owner and operator of several properties, including Southern Towers where the firm took over operations in 2020. It was immediately clear to Southern Towers Management that they needed to address years of deferred maintenance and make important quality-of-life improvements to the development including long-overdue roof replacements; renovation of apartments, corridors, and common areas; resurfacing parking areas and tennis courts; new playgrounds and much more.

While Southern Towers is not an affordable housing community, CIM Group has worked diligently to keep rent 20% below comparable properties in Alexandria, while at the same time, making significant improvements to the habitability of Southern Towers. Residents have always paid a portion of their utilities and continue to be responsible for the costs they incur.

Southern Towers Management has never violated the CARES Act or any local, state or Federal laws. In fact, CIM Group is legally required to utilize a form provided by the State of Virginia–referred to as a 5-Day Notice–to notify residents when they are in arrears. CIM Group has no control over the language used in the form and any call for modifications should be directed to the State of Virginia.

Despite much disinformation, Southern Towers Management will not be deterred from their commitment to the community they serve, their legal obligation and the fiduciary duty the company has to investors who have also helped improve the living conditions at Southern Towers from what existed prior to CIM Group’s ownership.

CIM Group has made significant improvements for the overall wellbeing of the residents at Southern Towers, including:

  1. Providing assistance during the pandemic to residents who suffered financial setbacks that resulted in more than $5 million in rental assistance secured for hundreds of families.
  2. Increasing the level of regular maintenance well beyond what was the norm under the prior owner by 96%, which is more than $8.2M to address significant deferred maintenance issues.
  3. Instituting an online resident portal that provides transparent and open communication, as well as a seamless way for residents to submit work orders, which expedites necessary repair and maintenance.
  4. Prioritizing community involvement by organizing farmers markets, job fairs, food drives, and vaccination clinics.
  5. Engaging residents in a transparent and ongoing way by holding monthly meetings and appreciation events, as well as communicating important dates and information in the resident portal, as well as the weekly and monthly newsletters.

Fostering a secure and healthy environment by:

  1. Installing security cameras in each elevator landing in each tower and upgrading cameras on the lobby level in each tower. The entire project is anticipated to be completed by the end of July 2024.
  2. Upgrading all smoke detectors and replacing every unit on the campus with smoke detector/CO2 combo units.
  3. Repairing the retaining wall near the Ashlawn.
  4. Installing Flock Security – license plate reading cameras installed at each entrance to the property.
  5. Upgrading the fire alarm panel at Sherwood.
  6. Purchasing a new Jeep for patrolling the campus.
  7. Performing a thorough Pest Control inspection and preventative treatments of all common areas and every apartment home as well as sealing of any holes found during the inspection.

Making material upgrades to improve the quality of living at Southern Towers:

  1. Making significant laundry room upgrades, including purchasing new washer and dryer equipment for each floor at every building. The new equipment also included upgraded payment panel allowing residents the option to use cash, credit/debit cards or an app to pay for service.
  2. Enhancing and upgrading the dog park.
  3. Tennis Court resurfacing, striping and new nets. Upgrade also included replacing the solo player wall.
  4. Resurfacing the overflow parking area.
  5. Asphalt resurfacing at Beauregard entrance near The Graham and Monticello.
  6. Replacing all of the playground equipment.
  7. Beautifying the property including removing 26 dead or rotting trees from the campus and pruned trees in the community park to raise tree canopy by 3 feet, allowing better sight lines.
  8. Replacing 4 outdoor gas grills at Graham.
  9. Installing new grilling areas throughout the community park.
  10. Expanding concrete pads at grilling areas which include new accessible seating.
  11. Installing a new pergola over the grilling area closest to the Monticello pool.
  12. Complete resurfacing of the Monticello main and small pools.
  13. HVAC convector project completed at the Sherwood.
  14. HVAC system inspections completed across the campus.
  15. Window and Balcony door mock-ups completed at Ashlawn and Monticello. Each building scheduled for full window replacement byQ4 2023.

The full letter from Warner and Kaine is below.

Ms. Bethany Chang
Principal, On-Site Property Management CIM Group
4700 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Dear Ms. Chang,

We write to share troubling concerns we have heard from constituents regarding conditions of the Southern Towers apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia since your firm, the CIM Group (CIM), took ownership of the property. Tenants of Southern Towers have raised concerns regarding declining conditions, unresolved maintenance requests, and significant pricing changes. As such, we urge you to take immediate action to address these issues by engaging directly and frequently with the tenants and working quickly to resolve outstanding concerns.

As you know, Southern Towers is a five-building apartment complex located in Alexandria, Virginia. For years, it has been home to generations of immigrants and has become a haven of affordable housing where families can achieve economic stability. In 2020, CIM purchased the property with significant financial backing from Freddie Mac. Tenants have shared with our offices that, under CIM ownership, they have been subjected to eviction filings during the eviction moratorium, changes in how utilities are billed combined with rent increases that have led to substantial price hikes, and unaddressed maintenance issues that pose health and safety risks. Further, tenants have voiced that CIM issued unclear eviction notices indicating that tenants who were late on their rent payments had only five days to “pay rent or, alternatively, to terminate lease and vacate premises” – only mentioning later in the notice that tenants located on a “covered property” as defined by the CARES Act were entitled to a 30-day notice before vacating.

These issues are all the more staggering when considering that our nation is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Virginia alone is facing a shortage of over 170,000 units for extremely low-income households with the supply shortfall particularly pronounced in Alexandria, which lost an estimated 90 percent of its market-affordable units between 2000 and 2017. As the vast share of the undersupply is concentrated in low-income, high-opportunity markets, we know that the burden of this crisis is falling largely on low- and moderate-income families. It is more important than ever that our existing affordable housing stock is safe and available for those that need it most, including complexes like Southern Towers.

As a federally-backed property, it is incumbent upon CIM to manage Southern Towers in alignment with the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s mission to promote quality affordable housing. At a minimum, federally-backed properties should be well-maintained and free from health and safety risks, and have a responsive management team with transparent rent and utility pricing procedures. Moving forward, we urge CIM to meet regularly with tenants to hear their concerns, clearly communicate plans regarding deferred maintenance issues or pricing changes, and work directly with tenants to address issues in a timely manner. As CIM refers to itself as a “community-focused real estate investor”, we also urge CIM to offer assistance to tenants at risk of eviction by connecting them with government resources in an effort to keep more individuals and families in their homes.

It must be a priority that our most vulnerable communities are protected from displacement and have access to safe and affordable housing. We look forward to working with you to ensure that Southern Towers is a quality, affordable community for the tenants that call it home.

Sincerely,

Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine

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