Alexandria, VA

Low-income residents at Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road) in the West End have been among those most affected by historic highs in unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery — but on-top of this, many of the residents face a new problem: a landlord pursuing hundreds of evictions.

At a meeting today between residents and elected officials, several immigrants living one of the city’s few remaining bastions of market rate affordable housing shared a sense of uncertainty and fear as new landlord CIM Group begins taking legal actions against residents.

“I used to work full time job, my husband worked two jobs,” said Betelihem Kebede, a resident at Southern Towers. “We had no problem paying rent, but during the pandemic, I lost my job and my husband lost both his jobs. To pay rent, we used up our savings. My husband took some part time jobs to still pay rent. It was hard but we were still trying to pay rent. We’re trying to think of our kids’ future, but we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re still fighting.”

A report prepared by Chris Bohner, a researcher with Radish LLC, showed that Southern Towers owner CIM has taken residents to court on eviction proceedings 541 times since August 2020, when CIM acquired the property. Bohner’s findings indicate that CIM is leading in eviction proceedings among Alexandria landlords over the last few months.

The proceedings have taken place despite a moratorium on evictions, and Bohner said that’s shown no signs of slowing down.

“Yesterday, there were 20 Southern Towers cases scheduled for court,” Bohner said.

Bohner said his findings were based on information from the Alexandria District Court. The number doesn’t represent the total number of residents affected, which is harder to pin down. Several are repeated proceedings against the same households — Bohner estimated there were over 200 distinct cases — but most cases were directed at families living in units rather than individual persons.

Several state and city elected representatives — including House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring– were on the virtual call. Some highlighted efforts being undertaken to help relieve the impending eviction issues, but others noted that the effort to force residents out of the complex likely isn’t accidental in the context of anticipated higher housing prices with Amazon’s impending arrival.

“You’re talking over 600 people out of about 4,000 residents,” Bohner said. “And of course the evictions have the impact of intimidating the other residents as well. The evictions proceedings are happening despite the eviction moratorium. They know they can’t evict for a little while longer.”

Bohner presented the findings on a call put together by African Communities Together and residents of the complex earlier today. The call also included elected representatives and residents of Southern Towers.

Residents said recent unemployment has made it difficult for families to pay their bills.

“I used to work three jobs, and I lost all of them during the pandemic,” said Sami Bourma, a resident of Southern Towers originally from Sudan. “I’m a father with three kids. I talked to the landlords and was told I had to figure out a way to pay rent. Then they stated to threaten us and send us letters.”

Bourma said he was among those who was hopeful new ownership of the property could help turn around a relationship so combative that residents launched protests against management last year. But if anything, Bourma said the situation has gotten worse, and others said management is harder to get in touch with now.

Ikram Meskaoui, a resident in the building, said despite promises that owners would work with residents on rental payment, management was difficult to contact and wouldn’t respond to resident communications. ALXnow called CIM Group but was directed to a line that had a full voicemail.

City Council member Canek Aguirre said city leadership was concerned by the eviction proceedings and said businesses coming into Alexandria have an obligation to be good neighbors and good community members.

Delegate Mark Levine said residents should talk to community organizers and make sure they don’t do anything like default or ignore eviction notices.

“I’m heartbroken to hear about what’s going on,” said City Councilman Mo Seifeldein, who said that he lived at Southern Towers for ten years. “You’re going to see this turn into luxurious apartments as part of gentrification of the West End. If you look at other apartments in the area you begin to see the full picture. You’re likely not going to see much protection other than minimal effort. This requires more pressure on elected officials.”

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It was a short, but news-filled week in Alexandria.

With Monday off in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we started the week running with a COVID-19 update. Cases of COVID-19 in the city now stand at 8,975 and fatalities are at 99. That’s an increase of three deaths and 165 cases since Tuesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Our top story this week was a story that was published before election day in November, when residents with Joe Biden for president signs in their yards received anonymous letters stating that Biden is a pedophile.

Our second most-read story was the widely reported plans to close Atlantis Pizzeria and Family Restaurant.

Wednesday, Jan. 20, brought worldwide attention to Alexandria’s neighboring jurisdiction of Washington D.C. for Biden’s inauguration, and while there were calls from members of the community for a 6 p.m. curfew, there were no reported incidents from protestors in Alexandria.

In fact, Alexandria Sheriff’s deputies and police officers helped during the inauguration by working with regional partners to shut down the 14th Street Bridge to traffic.

In case you missed them, here are a few important posts:

Here are our top stories of the week:

  1. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  2. Atlantis Pizzeria and Family Restaurant Closing on Jan. 24
  3. New Boarding House Planned Over Old Town Barber Shop
  4. Man Charged With DWI After Horrific Crash in West End Parking Lot
  5. Contested Parker-Gray Townhouse Returns to City Tomorrow
  6. Police Chief: Many Recent Shootings in Alexandria Are Related
  7. Curfew Not Likely for Alexandria on Inauguration Day, No Known Threats Detected
  8. BREAKING: Woman Gets Arm Amputated, Police Investigate if She Was Thrown From Car in West End
  9. Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker Asks Alexandria Hotels to Cancel ‘Proud Boy’ Reservations
  10. Local Business in Hot Water with City Architects After Unauthorized Paint Job
  11. COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expanded, City Says Aggressive Calls to COVID-19 Hotline Not Tolerated

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via Atlantis Restaurant/Facebook

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An Alexandria hotel faced some public scrutiny for housing Proud Boys and other right wing factions before the Capitol Hill riot, but now the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle is facing pressure from elected leadership to cancel reservations for identified extremists.

The hotel drew national attention before the protest as the lodging for the white nationalist group and a planned protest was cancelled after it allegedly received death threats.

Alexandria Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker sent a letter to the hotels asking them to cancel reservations for guests who publicly identify with one of the extremist groups reportedly planning to gather between Sunday, Jan. 17 and Wednesday, Jan. 20 to disrupt the inauguration of Joe Biden as President.

Yesterday, Airbnb announced that it would cancel all reservations in D.C. as security tightens for the inauguration events. HotelTonight reservations are also being cancelled. In December, a D.C. hotel that served as a rallying point for Proud Boys closed during a planned rally, leaving some of the group’s plans in disarray.

Photo via Google Maps

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Less than a week before the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, Alexandria’s Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is asking hotels in the city to cancel reservations for the Proud Boys.

In a letter to the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle, Bennett-Parker said that it rented rooms to members of the Proud Boys before the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

“It is my understanding that members of the Proud Boys, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, stayed at your hotel during their insurrection attempt earlier this month,” Bennett-Parker wrote. “These anti-democratic groups are inciting violence and must not be welcome in our city.”

On Jan. 4, a protest at the Holiday Inn was canceled for security concerns after a notification was posted on the pro-Trump site thedonald.win and a commenter said that if any Trump supporters arrived early to the hotel that “it’s time to give them a show of force.”

Bennett-Parker asked that Alexandria hotels cancel reservations with anyone associated with the group. The hotel is located one block from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station, and reservations can be made online.

“There is another planned armed militia insurgence from January 17, 2021, through January 20, 2021,” she wrote. “Please join me in condemning these right-wing terrorists by denying them lodging at your hotel. Your actions will send a message that there is no place for hate in Alexandria. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

Photo via Grassroots Alexandria/Facebook

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A protest today (Jan. 4) outside the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle against supporters of President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election was canceled for security concerns.

Protest organizers from Shut Down DC planned to hand out fliers and stickers and demonstrate against the Proud Boys and other Trump supporters who they call fascists and may be staying at the hotel at 2460 Eisenhower Ave. and are marching in D.C. on Wednesday.

The small event outside the hotel was canceled after a notification was posted on the pro-Trump site thedonald.win and a commenter said that if any Trump supporters arrived early that “it’s time to give them a show of force.” That comment was enough for the organizers to cancel the event.

Jonathan Krall of Grassroots Alexandria was among a handful of undeterred anti-Trump protestors who flashed signs and a banner reading, “Hey Holiday Inn — No Room For Fascists.”

“They only have to win once and our Democracy is finished,” Krall told ALXnow. “Of course they consider themselves patriots, but they are supporting Donald Trump and Donald Trump declared himself the winner of the election. And the only thing that’s keeping him from being a dictator is that the rest the government is not playing along.”

Protestor Glenn plans to march in a group against Trump in D.C. on Wednesday. The D.C. National Guard has been mobilized for the event.

“They’re stabbing and beating people up and not wearing masks,” Glenn said. “These are dangerous people.”

Photo with banner via Grassroots Alexandria/Facebook

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When the Proud Boys and other protestors come to D.C. this week, they might find Alexandrians counter-protesting them in D.C. and at hotels in Virginia.

A protest group called Shut Down DC is planning a rally outside of Holiday Inn (2460 Eisenhower Avenue) in Alexandria, where some of the right-wing protestors coming to D.C. are allegedly staying.

The counter-protest, called “No Rooms for Fascists”, is planned for 3 p.m. today (Monday). Attendees are asked to wear a mask and while a flyer for the protest said to wear black, event organizers said in an email that’s no longer expected.

“Holiday Inn Alexandria is hosting violent white supremacists and Neo-Nazis on the week of Jan. 6,” the flyer said. “We reject Holiday Inn’s support of violent fascists who intent to harm our community. Join us to expose Holiday Inn’s preference for white supremacists.”

Grassroots Alexandria expressed a message of support for the protest and encouraged those who don’t feel safe marching to write to local media and their political leadership. Grassroots Alexandria also led protests outside of acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s home this summer.

Jonathan Krall, executive director of Grassroots Alexandria, said in an email that the organization is calling on Holiday Inn to cancel the reservations for right-wing organizers scheduled this week.

Photo via Google Maps

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“My money for food!” shouted a vocal group of tenants facing eviction at the Southern Towers apartment complex in the West End on Thursday.

Resident Sami Bourma was one of them. He’s back to working part-time as a cook, but is $11,000 in the hole with his rent. His wife is expecting to give birth to their third child any day now, and he hasn’t fully paid for his $1,515-a-month one bedroom apartment since March. He got a couple months of it covered through city resources, but now has to go back to court in January to seek a third extension from eviction.

“I’m getting paid $600 every two weeks,” Bourma said. “That’s gone before you know it.”

The protest was organized by African Communities Together, a group that helps communities with African immigrants.

“This apartment compound, it’s a huge complex, and it’s full of immigrants mostly from Africa,” said protest organizer Bert Bayou. “They’re highly impacted by COVID. From the beginning, because most of them work several service jobs, they were the  first to be to be laid off.”

A representative from Southern Towers’ new owner CIM Group spoke to residents briefly and gave them rental assistance forms with the city and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

Throughout the spring and summer, residents facing eviction protested around the city. But in September, the Supreme Court of Virginia did not extend the moratorium on eviction proceedings.

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With photos, signs, artwork and letters, the City of Alexandria is documenting Alexandria’s response to the death of George Floyd.

The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) and the Alexandria Black History Museum have been collecting artifacts for months and are asking for photos from the public.

“George Floyd’s life mattered,” wrote Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. “His life story matters. His murder matters. He became part of a horrible trinity on May 25th when his killing came shortly after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. This trinity is just the most recent example of America’s horrible legacy of racial terror deaths.”

Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25, and the event sparked outrage throughout the country, including in Alexandria. Portions of the city were shut down during the summer for protests and vigils, and the event even turned the spotlight on the Alexandria Police Department.

Due to the pandemic, donated objects will not be accepted until city museums reopen, according to OHA.

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It’s the end of a busy week in Alexandria!

Our top story was the Del Ray car crash on Mount Vernon Avenue, and there’s some good news to report. The driver, who crashed her car due to a medical emergency, was sent home without any injuries the following day.

The city also experienced flooding after Thursday’s rainstorms, prompting the City Council to get an oral report on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stormwater management improvements. As reported, there have been more than a half dozen flood events in Alexandria this summer.

Council also received a report on the establishment of a community police review board, and sent it back for some additions. Namely, Council asked staff to include an option that would give the review board independent investigative authority, an action that prompted a police union to call the idea of the review board “superfluous.” Incidentally, crime stories are among the top articles read every week on ALXnow.

This was also the first week of the historic 2020-2021 school year, and with classes starting virtually it will be an altogether different experience than years past.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Driver Suffers Life Threatening Injuries in Del Ray Car Crash
  2. UPDATED: Flooding Reported in Parts of City After Heavy Rain
  3. Planning Commission Approves Density Compromise Despite Outrage from Civic Associations
  4. Video: Protestors Perform ‘Die-In’ Outside Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s Alexandria Home
  5. Arrest Made After Shots Fired in Old Town
  6. Police Investigating Public Indecency Incidents in Del Ray
  7. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  8. Council to Vote on Requiring Face Masks in Alexandria
  9. Just Listed in Alexandria
  10. Hundreds in ‘Trumptilla’ Boat Parade Sail Past Alexandria
  11. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard

Have a safe weekend!

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For the fourth time this summer, protestors demonstrated outside the Alexandria home of acting Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.

For the first time, however, the protestors participated in a “die-in” on the sidewalk and in the street, and said that they hope to drive Wolf and his family away from living in the city. The protestors pretended that they were dead for several minutes.

“This is a friendly, loving community. My husband and I chose it in 1990 for a reason,” said a protestor. “I don’t care what this man’s children find out about him. He deserves to be questioned by all of us.”

The protestors meet every other Sunday in front of Wolf’s North Ridge home. The first protest was organized by Shut Down DC, and the others have been organized by Alexandria residents.

“If somebody says ‘Why are these people here?’ The answer is read the Constitution,” a protestor said. “Article I of the Bill of Rights says that the people are guaranteed the right to gather peaceably, and to seek redress from the government for our grievances. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re peaceful. We’re stating what we think is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s in front of his house, if he’s out to dinner or at his office. Wherever he is, he is a representative of the government and we have a right to gather peacefully, and expect to address those grievances. It’s very simple.”

The protestors demanded that the federal government end family separation and immigration detention practices and the suppression of protests around the country with federal troops.

“For me personally, making him uncomfortable is part of the whole plan,” a protestor said. “The migrant families who are separated at the border, the kids who are in cages, these are unscrupulous actions. He needs to think what about what his children will hear about him. He needs to think how his neighbors are perceiving him and he needs to know what it is to be made uncomfortable.”

Last month, chalk graffiti was also sprayed on the street near Wolf’s home.

Video by Taylor Brown

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