A lawsuit filed by D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb over alleged artificial rent inflation will hit some of the region’s biggest landlords, including companies with properties in Alexandria, DCist first reported.
Schwalb’s lawsuit alleges the landlords of acting as a rent-setting cartel that use Texas-based property management software company RealPage to artificially drive up rent prices around the region.
According to the lawsuit:
In practice, RealPage has focused on recruiting into the cartel the buildings with the largest number of units (i.e., buildings with fifty or more units). In the District, a sizable
majority of units in large multifamily buildings — approximately 60% — set their prices using RealPage’s RM software.
In the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Statistical Area, that number is even higher: over 90% of units in large buildings are priced using RealPage’s RM software.
As a practical matter, this leaves many District residents with no choice but to pay RealPage’s inflated rents.
The largest defendant in the lawsuit is Greystar, which manages six communities across Alexandria and uses RealPage RM Software for pricing:
- Bailey’s Crossings Apartments
- Del Ray Tower at Fuse
- Station 650 Apartments
- The Blake
Other defendants in the lawsuit include Avenue5 Residential, which owns e-lofts in the West End, and Avalon Communities, which owns Avalon Potomac Yard. Another developer in the lawsuit, JBG Smith, has been part of plans to redevelop Potomac Yard.
“RealPage, the Defendant Landlords, and other Participating Landlords have unlawfully agreed to forgo competition in favor of using a central entity — the RealPage RM Software — to set apartment rents,” the lawsuit said “Their agreement is reflected in existing documents, has been
publicly acknowledged by cartel members, and is closely policed to ensure compliance.”
The lawsuit said RealPage suppresses landlords’ independent price decision-making and requires the landlords to impose rents generated by the company’s software. Landlords using the software have touted their ability to raise rents by 20% or more, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of years of rent increases, with many of the defendants in the lawsuit owning the Class A apartments in Alexandria that have seen an average 4.7% rent increase over the last year.
Image via The Blake/Facebook
The program’s cancelation was first reported by the Washington Post.
The program was designed to help Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who owned businesses in Alexandria. Engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in January claiming the program was “blatantly illegal” and violated the Equal Protection Clause.
A statement on the program’s website said the program, as currently proposed, would not be launched:
Over the past several months, the City has worked to develop a grant program to meet the needs of our diverse small business community – an important foundation of Alexandria’s continued economic development. A lawsuit challenging the BIPOC small business grant program was filed in federal court in January. Upon review of the lawsuit and the program, we have decided we will not launch the program as currently proposed. Instead, we will review options to use this funding to meet the needs of our diverse small business community in a more comprehensive and sustainable way, and look forward to launching a program that achieves that goal. Our City remains committed to serving all Alexandrians and focused on our responsibility to find equitable solutions to address the challenges they face. More details will become available on the new program over the coming months.
The Washington Post reported that Alexandria officials admitted that the grant criteria as written was a violation of the 14th Amendment, but that the city would work to find other ways to help minority business owners disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
It’s been a busy week in Alexandria.
As teachers fought for a pay raise, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) students walked out of the classrooms in protest against Alexandria City Public Schools leadership stonewalling a lunchtime program.
Titan Lunch was a proposed replacement for an earlier Lunch and Learn program that allowed students to meet with clubs or teachers during their lunch period. A student committee met with school administration and worked on crafting a compromise that would keep the core of “Lunch and Learn” intact while adding security measures.
In an email to the ACHS community, Principal Peter Balas said during meetings with the school district’s senior leadership team it became apparent that “safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges” would keep the program from moving forward during the current school year.
While organizers said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt has yet to meet with the student committee that put together the activity proposal, the ACHS PTSA wrote a letter to the school system supporting the Titan Lunch proposal.
The most-read stories this week were:
- Alexandria City High School students organize walk out protesting cancelation of lunchtime activities
- With Alexandria seeing more residential development conversions, city leaders discuss pushing for greater ‘voluntary’ contributions
- No arrest after woman robbed at gunpoint in Old Town Saturday night
- UPDATED: Alexandria BIPOC-focused grant program delayed by lawsuit from local engineering firm
- JUST IN: Visit Alexandria unveils new city branding
- JUST IN: Suspect on run in shooting ‘mistakenly’ released from jail after arrest
- Alexandria teachers want smaller classes and bigger raises
- Notes: Neighboring Arlington embroiled in single-family zoning fight Alexandria has avoided… so far
- Woodbridge man arrested after stabbing incident in West End
- APD investigates shots fired in the West End
The City of Alexandria approved a grant program aimed at benefiting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) business owners. Applications were set to be released in the coming weeks, but a lawsuit has put those plans on hold.
The grant would have allocated $500,000 worth of funds ot businesses with at least 51% BIPOC ownership, with a maximum amount of $7,000 per recipient.
Earlier this week, engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria claiming the city is discriminating based on race. Tridentis is a military contractor based in Alexandria.
“This program is blatantly illegal,” the lawsuit claimed. “The Equal Protection Clause prohibits Alexandria from discriminating based on race, and this express racial exclusion cannot possibly satisfy strict scrutiny. Plaintiff, a business in Alexandria who wants to apply for the program but is excluded because its owner is the wrong race, is entitled to relief.”
Tridentis has received over $1 million in forgiven loans since early 2020.
Kevin Harris, founder of AMBA, called the lawsuit political theater, noting that the contractor donates thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians or groups every year.
“Tellingly, Tridentis has hired Consovoy McCarthy PLLC as their legal counsel for this suit.” said Harris. “I think that shows pretty clearly what their end-goal is.”
Pastor Lou Whiting, leader of the Social Responsibility Group (SRG), called the pause in the grant program disappointing.
“SRG is deeply disappointed that our City now faces this legal challenge in its efforts to address the compelling governmental interests of diversity, equity, and inclusion for members of their constituency that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.” said Pastor Whiting. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential priorities for Alexandria and our entire nation. This lawsuit demonstrates our need for sustained action.”
ALXnow reached out to a Tridentis phone number but recieved no response.
Updated at 2 p.m. — A lawsuit challenging a city-run grant program benefiting entrepreneurs of color is delaying its launch.
The City of Alexandria announced the delay of the grant program benefiting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) on social media, saying the launch has been postponed while the city reviews the lawsuit.
Engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed the suit (PDF file) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 22. The Alexandria-based firm says that the program is “blatantly illegal” and is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to bar the city from opening the program’s application period on Jan. 26.
“To be eligible for the program, a business must demonstrate that its owners are at least 51% black, indigenous, or people of color,” Tridentis said in its court filing. “These BIPOC owners must come from one of four groups–Black or African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Indigenous or Native American. In other words, no whites allowed.”
Tridentis continued, “This program is blatantly illegal. The Equal Protection Clause prohibits Alexandria from discriminating based on race, and this express racial exclusion cannot possibly satisfy strict scrutiny. Plaintiff, a business in Alexandria who wants to apply for the program but is excluded because its owner is the wrong race, is entitled to relief.”
Tridentis, which is being represented by Bryan Kipp Weir, is alleging that the city is violating due process and equal protection. The company is asking for the following:
- A declaratory judgment that (the city’s) Defendant’s BIPOC Small Business Grant Program violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
- A temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Defendant from opening the application period, closing the application period, selecting grant recipients, or enforcing its racially discriminatory eligibility criteria for the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program.
- A permanent injunction barring Defendant from enforcing its racially discriminatory eligibility criteria for the program.
- Nominal damages.
- Reasonable costs and expenses of this action, including attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. §1988 and any other applicable laws.
- And all other relief that Tridentis is entitled to.
Today, the City was served with a lawsuit challenging the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program. We are postponing the launch while we review the lawsuit. Despite this delay, the City remains committed to supporting our minority small business community and promoting equity for all.
— AlexandriaVAGov (@AlexandriaVAGov) January 24, 2023
The grant website said the city was served with a lawsuit yesterday:
NOTICE: On January 23, 2023, the City was served with a lawsuit challenging the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program. Applications were set to open on January 26; however, we are postponing the application process while we review the lawsuit. Despite this delay, the City remains committed to supporting our minority small business community and promoting equity for all. Please send all inquiries to [email protected].
The city has been set to release applications on Thursday, Jan. 26. The grant was approved by the City Council in October, along with funding meant to boost the voices of minority business owners in discussions of city policy.
The purpose of the grant was to support Black-owned businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Nationwide, Black-owned businesses saw a 28% earnings decrease in 2020 compared to a 15% drop for White-owned businesses and a 17% overall decline, Bloomberg reported.
“While many businesses have struggled and are still recovering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these hardships are particularly felt by Black, Indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”) owned businesses due to structural barriers and discriminatory financial lending practices,” the city said in a release.
My commitment to supporting our diverse businesses is unwavering. Very disappointed to share this news.
— Alyia Gaskins (@Alyia4ALX) January 24, 2023
James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story
Alexandria’s land records date back to the 18th century, and the city’s Clerk of the Circuit Court just secured more than $43,000 in grant funding to conserve those records and digitize them for public enjoyment.
This is the second year that the clerk’s office has been awarded the grant, which is made possible through the Circuit Court Records Preservation program from the Virginia Court Clerks Association and the Library of Virginia. Approximately $4.7 million was awarded to clerks offices throughout Virginia this year.
This year’s funding will pay for the restoration of eight volumes of the city’s oldest and most valuable records covering 1785 through 1798. Those records include deeds to real property, marriages and wills.
“Alexandria’s history is one of its most precious assets and I am committed to securing resources to preserve, protect and make widely available these windows into our past,” Alexandria Clerk Greg Parks said.
Last year, the city was awarded about $15,400 toward the effort, which went toward the restoration and digitization of four historic volumes.
During a City Council meeting last night, the city moved to settle on a discrimination case involving the Alexandria Fire Department reprimanding and disciplining a captain requesting medical leave to handle a disability.
Last December, EMS Captain Michael Cahill — who has worked for the Alexandria Fire Department since 1994 — filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that he faced discrimination and retaliation as a disabled person requesting medical leave.
The lawsuit said that Cahill’s disabilities include post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, both of which had a substantial impact on his activities. Cahill’s son also suffers a congenital heart condition. As a result of both his disabilities and his son’s, Cahill said his use of sick leave began to increase around January 2018, before which he said it was rarely used.
By July, Cahill said he received a disciplinary memorandum accusing him of an excessive level of unscheduled sick leave and ordering him to produce doctors’ notes “each time [he] utilize[d] sick leave of any type.” Cahill said during this time, he had a positive/high leave balance and had never taken more than one day of sick leave in a row.
Cahill said in the suit that he had a balance of 800 hours of sick leave and had only taken 511 hours, while still working 1,888 hours.
Throughout late 2018, Cahill listed instances of paperwork he submitted to his commander to be filed with Human Resources that never arrived at that office, and said no action was taken on leave requests because the reasons were listed as “too vague.”
When Cahill challenged disciplinary action taken against him, the suit says the hearing officer ruled in Cahill’s favor and ordered that Cahill’s leave be restored, but the lawsuit says the AFD never restored those hours.
“Mr. Cahill submitted his medical leave paperwork on August 6, 2018, yet he was forced to wait an entire six months before his medical leave was finally approved on January 15, 2019,” the lawsuit said. “AFD’s actions in this regard were unlawful, especially in light of the fact that AFD failed to engage in any timely interactive process.”
In another scenario, Cahill says he requested four hours of leave to take his son to a cardiology appointment but later canceled the leave when AFD could not find a replacement. But while Cahill worked those hours after AFD canceled the leave, the lawsuit says Cahill was never paid for that work despite proof that he was on duty from two incident reports.
“Mr. Cahill considers AFD’s unwillingness to pay him for the hours he worked after canceling the leave as retaliatory,” the lawsuit said.
The City Council entered into a closed session at the beginning of yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) meeting and emerged unanimously agreed to direct the City Attorney to enter into settlement agreements for the lawsuit.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
City Faces Dozens of Lawsuits — “Between 2014 and 2019, 101 lawsuits were filed against the city, and 20 of those cases are still active, according to data the Alexandria Times acquired through the city… Over the last six years, the city has faced 37 claims cases, 20 land-use cases, 15 civil rights cases, 12 employment cases, 11 real estate assessment cases, two FOIA cases, two mandamus cases and two procurement cases.” [Alexandria Times]
Restaurants That Locals Still Miss — “When you talk with locals about restaurants they miss, there’s usually at least one place they can name… We’ve received nearly 40 responses covering Old Town and other areas of the city. Places mentioned by multiple people included Austin Grill, Overwood, Mango Mike’s, Flying Fish and Geranio.” [Patch]
New Bank Branch Opens in Carlyle — “Bank of America celebrated its latest Alexandria location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning inside the newly opened financial center in the heart of Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood. The location, at 415 John Carlyle St., is Bank of America’s 10th financial center in the Alexandria/Springfield market and fourth in Alexandria proper.” [Alexandria Living]
GW Middle Students Try Meditation — “Middle school can be a stressful environment, so… at George Washington Middle School, some teachers are starting class with meditation. The lights are dimmed, soothing music is turned on and teachers guide the kids to breathe, settle in and focus on something positive.” [WTOP]
Huge Fire South of Alexandria — “A large fire in Fairfax County destroyed an unfinished development of apartments and retail stores Saturday, shutting down traffic along Route 1 for several hours while firefighters battled the blaze and thick black smoke that could be seen for several miles.” Alexandria firefighters, along with firefighters from other nearby jurisdictions, responded to the scene as mutual aid. [Washington Post, NBC 4, Twitter]
T.C. Williams Lights Trial Delayed — “The trial to determine whether Alexandria City Public Schools can add lights to T.C. Williams High School’s new football stadium has been postponed from Feb. 24 to June 8, Lars Liebeler, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said… Residents from six of the neighboring households filed an original complaint in August 2018.” [Alexandria Times]
History of the Oakland Baptist Church — “Longing for their own church, they organized themselves and built Oak Hill Baptist Church in 1888. The men would leave work on their day jobs, go directly to the building site of the church, and start working. They would continue building the church after work on the weekends week after week until the church was finished.” [Zebra]
A lawsuit to try to prevent the owners of a late-18th century home in Old Town from demolishing parts of the historic property has been thrown out, but the plaintiff in the case has filed an appeal.
The house at 619 S. Lee Street has been owned by various local dignitaries over the years, from former mayor and editor of the Alexandria Gazette-Packet Edgar Snowden to Hugo Black, a member of the Supreme Court from 1937 to 1971. Black notably wrote the majority opinion in a decision justifying the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, filibustered an anti-lynching bill while a U.S. senator, and was at one point a member of the KKK.
The owners of the house won approval from the City Council earlier this year to demolish parts of the home, including a curved wall built in the late 1800s that the owners said was causing damage to the main building, according to the Alexandria Times. The changes to the home were opposed by a group of Old Town residents at every step of the process, arguing the changes were not in keeping with the historic nature of the home.
Yvonne Callahan, former president of the Old Town Citizens Association and one of the opponents of the demolition, filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria challenging the decision.
On Nov. 7, court records show that the case was dismissed with prejudice by the court, with Judge Lisa Kemler arguing that the topic had been fairly debated with enough time for public input and that — like with the lawsuit concerning the slaughterhouse — the parties involved in the lawsuit were unable to show that they were sufficiently aggrieved by the city’s approval of the demolition.
As of Nov. 26, an appeal of Kemler’s decision was already filed to the Supreme Court of Virginia.