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With a potential wave of evictions incoming next month, a group representing tenants of Southern Towers is trying to indirectly pressure the building’s owner into giving residents a reprieve.

The 2,261-unit Southern Towers complex at 4901 Seminary Road is one of the last bastions of market-rate affordable housing — housing that’s affordable without being set at a certain level by agreement with the local government. The West End building was purchased in 2020 by California-based real estate company CIM Group.

While there were some eviction protections put in place during the pandemic, CIM Group still pursued eviction proceedings against some residents, and tenant advocacy group African Communities Together has expressed concerns those evictions could escalate now that Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) has closed its application process.

The RRP was created during the pandemic to keep families in place as job loss impacted local residents’ ability to pay rent. But with the application window closing, the City of Alexandria said in a release that eviction protections put in place with that program will expire starting on June 1.

Bert Bayou, director of African Communities Together, said affordable housing advocates are scrambling to put together protections for residents.

“This came as a surprise,” said Bayou. “We were expecting this program to continue. This came so quickly and was a shock to the community that it was ending on May 15. We were still trying to get data on how many people used this program for rent relief but still not provided by the state.”

Bayou said that many of Southern Towers’ residents are service-industry employees or Uber drivers who work in jobs that haven’t fully returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“We know this community, we’ve been in this community for many years,” Bayou said. “These are service workers, hospitality workers, Uber drivers. Most of the jobs are dependent on federal workers coming back and they either haven’t or is still part-time. When this is over, when the eviction moratorium ends, we’re going to see a floodgate opening on evictions. It’s going to be massive.”

Bayou said in April 2021, African Communities Together did a study that found CIM Group had started 541 eviction proceedings since buying the property in 2020, and Bayou said they’ve seen another 50 or so since then.

ALXnow reached out to CIM Group to comment or confirm these numbers but received no response.

“They own around 9% of the apartment units in the city,” Bayou said, “but their eviction filings were about 25% of the total. That’s higher than any other landlord in the city.”

Bayou said they’ve tried to reach out to CIM Group to work out a way to offer rent relief for residents of Southern Towers who are still out of work, but that the real estate company will only negotiate with individual residents rather than with tenant groups.

“What we could do is for tenants to sit down collectively with CIM to address this and other issues, but CIM as a multi-billion dollar landlord could sit down and work with tenants not to be evicted and be homeless,” Bayou said. “CIM could do this. They’ve raised hundreds of millions of dollars when they purchased the building. When they come to the city, there has to be some compassion from the landlord to talk to tenants.”

Instead, Bayou said they’re trying to target CIM Group’s investors to try to get them to apply pressure on the real estate company to come to the table. It is, admittedly, a long shot. It’s been one week since African Communities Together started to reach out to investors, and so far the few responses the group has received are from investors that say they’re no longer involved with CIM Group and haven’t been for years.

“They are real estate investors, but there are a good number of public pension funds that have invested in CIM,” Bayou said. “Those are the ones we are really focusing on. Most of the union members for which this pension is being invested would not support this kind of investment.”

African Communities Together is part of the city’s Eviction Prevention Task Force that’s been working on alternative rent relief programs, but it can’t fully replace the statewide program. The city is offering assistance like temporary housing and storage units, but can’t intervene to prevent evictions.

“There is some assistance available through the city for temporary housing and storage units and other assistance,” Bayou said. “I think that’s where we’ll be looking if this happens, but we’re trying not to think about that. We’re trying to keep tenants in their homes. If they lose this apartment building, there’s basically no affordable housing for them.”

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A statewide rent relief program is closing to new applicants soon with eviction protections expiring soon after. The City of Alexandria is urging those in need to apply within the next week or lose access to rent relief.

The application portal for the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is set to close on Sunday, May 15.

“RRP was created to keep families stably housed and landlords paid during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city said in a release. “RRP emergency rental assistance is prioritized for households earning less than 50% of area median income or households with one or more members who have not been employed for the 90 days preceding the date of application.”

The program has distributed $713 million in rent relief statewide since it started in March 2022.

The city release also noted that starting July 1, several tenant eviction protections that were put into place during the pandemic will be expiring, including:

  • A return to five-day notices to pay or face eviction (For the past year, landlords had to provide at least a 14-day notice to tenants.)
  • Removal of the requirement to inform tenants of the availability of rental assistance (For the past year, landlords had to inform and help tenants apply for RRP before initiating eviction.)
  • No requirement for landlords to provide notice of or offer payment plans

The city specified that, because landlords cannot proceed with eviction within 45 days of an RRP application being submitted, there is likely to be an influx of eviction proceedings starting around July 1.

Last September, the city dedicated some American Rescue Plan Act funding toward a smaller scale local alternative to the statewide rent relief program.

“The City of Alexandria’s Eviction Prevention Task Force will continue to work with partners and stakeholders across the state to create comprehensive strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing, address and prevent evictions and reduce barriers in housing,” the release said.

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Morning Notes

On Wednesday (September 29), 757 Alexandria City High School seniors in government classes participated in a mock election, and voted for governor, lieutenant governor, the House of Delegates seat in the 46th District, Commonwealth’s attorney and Sheriff. The results were not made public, as the unofficial voting was just an exercise. (Via Claire Going/ACPS)

Aslin Beer Co. opens new scratch kitchen in Alexandria — “For the past two years, Chef Taylor Gates has been learning about pizza and dough — and now the taproom at Aslin Beer Co. in Alexandria’s West End is ready to serve it up. Aslin is opening a new scratch kitchen concept this week called Knead.” [Alexandria Living]

City Council approves additional eviction prevention resources — “City Council’s decision funds $457,000 for two service navigator and two housing relocator positions; storage assistance for household belongings; and additional legal services provided by the Legal Aid Justice Center to assist people at risk for eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [City of Alexandria]

Inova Alexandria Hospital brings peer recovery to the emergency room — “Patients visiting the E.R. for a substance-related crisis can speak with a specialist once they are medically stable. The idea is to help them take that first step toward recovery.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Plentiful sunshine. High 74F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph… A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 51F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Employee Rotation Program with the Office of Historic Alexandria — “Work involves writing, editing and planning layout of brochures and flyers, newspaper articles, press releases, and/or planning and implementing publicity and fundraising campaigns. Work requires the exercise of creativity, independent judgment, and a familiarity with Alexandria’s African American history. The work is performed under general supervision of the Director of the Alexandria Black History Museum in consultation with the Director of OHA.” [Governmentjobs.com]

Via Claire Going/ACPS

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Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s (ARHA) newly released Annual Agency Plan outlines the public agencies ongoing efforts at modernization and acquisition of affordable units in Old Town, with a particular focus on being more involved in rental-assistance programs.

The plan outlines areas of change for the organization, with the organization required to explain new activities in the current fiscal year. This year, one of those categories involves changes in “Mixed Finance Modernization or Development”. In its explanation, the document explained that ARHA is continuing to work on demolition of older units under Housing and Urban Development code Section 18 and rental assistance demonstration — rental assistance that ensures existing low-income units remain affordable — of others.

“To date, the repositioning has resulted in HUD Section 18 approval of 213 units (Ladrey, Park and Saxony). ARHA has received CHAPS for the RAD conversion of 220 units (James Bland I, James Bland II, Old Dominion, West Glebe, Chatham Square and BWR),” ARHA said. “The goal is to reposition as many properties as possible over the next five years so that ARHA can voluntarily convert its portfolio of units when there are less than 250 remaining public housing units. ARHA is implementing the repositioning policy consistent with HUD rules requiring that tenant protections remain in place and that tenant share of rent will not change beyond the current 30% of household income.”

The documents also noted that ARHA has selected 11 potential development partners to increase the overall number of affordable units by making units available to households earning between 30-60% of area median income.

The next big project for ARHA will be the redevelopment of the Ladrey building that will replace the existing units with units kept affordable through housing vouchers in addition to other residential development.

“In 2021, the Board of Commissioners will issue a redevelopment opportunity for the combined site of the existing Ladrey building together with the adjacent former ARHA site,” ARHA said. “The goal is to construct a multifamily building to house the existing 170 units at Ladrey by converting the units to project-based vouchers (HUD has approved the Section 18 reposition for this property) and add additional affordable and market rate units. The building will have an onsite management office, amenity space for use by all the residents, underground parking and units that meet current building codes.”

In the annual plan, ARHA said the push for more rental assistance can offer more flexibility and can supplement the public housing with project-based vouchers — units where residents pay some costs and ARHA makes up the remaining difference in utility and rental costs.

“Through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, ARHA will continue to own its properties and provide its residents with expanded choices and opportunities,” the public agency said. “ARHA will also have the ability to evaluate and immediately address many needed capital improvements and will continue to serve the same population. The RAD program offers ARHA an opportunity to transition from its current public housing funding platform to a more stable, predictable and sustainable funding source, the Project-based Voucher (PBV) program, which will be administered by the ARHA. The same families who are eligible today for public housing will be eligible for the PBV program.”

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As the nation was going through economic turmoil and the city’s unemployment reaching historic highs, at least 1,899 residents have also faced eviction threats from their landlords.

In a newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson noted that from last July to this April, there were 514 eviction judgements in the city and 1,128 evictions that were pursued but eventually dropped or dismissed. There are 257 cases pending.

On the bright side, Wilson also noted that 845 residents were assisted by the city’s outreach efforts at the courthouse, and more were aided with the city’s rental assistance program.

“The City has assisted 3,458 households with $9.9 million of emergency rent and mortgage assistance,” Wilson said. “Our residents have received another $7 million in rental assistance funds through the Virginia Rent Relief Program.”

Most of that funding has come from local, state and federal funding, but Wilson said the city has also gotten support from churches and non-profits like Christ Episcopal, St. Paul’s Episcopal, St. Vincent de Paul, Casa Chirilagua and ALIVE!.

“We have had landlords who have partnered with the City to keep their tenants housed and a General District Court that has been committed to assisting throughout this process,” Wilson said. “While these efforts have not been perfect, the partnerships that have been developed, expanded and exercised have been absolutely crucial in keeping our residents housed and maintaining family stability during a horrific time for our community.”

Last year, residents in the West End and Arlandria protested against evictions and called for a rent freeze.

A CDC moratorium on evictions is set to continue through the end of June, but the moratoriums have loopholes and requirements that mean evictions have continued regardless.

According to the city website:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has extended the Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium for FHA-insured mortgages through June 30, 2021, and provides a 180-day extension to the deadlines for the first legal action and the reasonable diligence time frame from the date of the moratorium expiration.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Rails Against Congressional Republicans — “I’m really sick of whining about ‘canceling’ from rich and powerful Republicans who tried to cancel our democracy.” [Twitter]

Deadline Extended for Landlords to Apply for Relief Program — The deadline for landlords to apply for the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, to cover overdue rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been extended to March 1. Applications that have not yet been submitted can now include requests to cover rent payments through February 2021. Previously submitted applications are also eligible to include rent due in February through a contract amendment process.” [City of Alexandria]

City Council Affirms Commitment to Racial and Social Equity — “On Jan. 23, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to acknowledge racial inequity in the past and present, and commit to adopting practices and policies that promote racial and social equity.” [Zebra]

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson Announces Run for Reelection — “I AM running for Re-election! With your support, I look forward to serving my hometown in this capacity for another term. Any contribution at any level helps! Thank you! #AlexandriaVA” [Twitter]

Alexandria Police Are Hiring — “Interested in becoming an Alexandria Police Officer? The first step is to take a written test. We have a few spots open for the next test on January 30th. Click the link below to start the process to become one of Alexandria’s finest.” [Twitter]

Power Outage Affects Some ACPS Teachers Tuesday — “Alert 1/26/2021 12:56 p.m.: There is currently an internet outage on the east coast that is impacting some of our staff. Please be aware as some teachers may not be able to connect to classes this afternoon.” [Twitter]

‘Groundswell’ Art Installation Coming to Waterfront Park — “A new art installation called Groundswell, featuring about 130 wood pilings in various heights, will adorn Waterfront Park in Old Town this spring.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “Except for a few afternoon clouds, mainly sunny. High 43F. Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph. Overcast (in the evening). Low near 30F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Teacher – Head Start — “The Teacher creates, maintains, and manages an attractive, warm, and challenging learning environment for young children, incorporating developmentally appropriate learning activities that meet the needs of the group as well as those of individual children. The Teacher collaborates with all staff to facilitate the utilization of needed services to the children and their families. The Teacher is responsible for keeping accurate reports and records for each child and ensuring that all of the necessary forms are completed and properly maintained.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Drug Take Back Day is October 24 — “Safely dispose of your unused and expired medicines during Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drop off locations will be available at APD Headquarters, Fire Station 210, and the Neighborhood Pharmacy of Del Ray.” [Twitter]

Council Approves Real Estate Tax Deferral — “Yesterday Council approved a resolution providing for a ‘hardship deferral’ option for payment of Alexandria’s second half real estate tax payment. Upon request, this allows an individual taxpayer to defer payment of the November 16th payment until March 1.” [Twitter]

Online Job Fair October 22 — “Attention job seekers and employers! Register now for JOB-TOBER, a free regional online job fair on October 22, 2-6 p.m.” [Twitter]

Impacted Alexandria Landlords Can Get Financial Assistance — “Landlords can now apply to receive financial assistance for current and past-due rental payments dating back to April 1, 2020 on behalf of their tenants who qualify for the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.” [Twitter]

Brewski’s Barkhaus Opens — “While dogs are not allowed directly in the restaurant area, there are plenty of spaces for them to hang out and make friends in the indoor and outdoor play areas.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “Mainly cloudy (during the day). High 71F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. A few clouds from time to time (at night). Low 56F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Social Media Specialist — “The Social Media Specialist is a highly motivated, creative individual with experience and passion for developing turn-key online marketing services for our restaurant clients.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria has formed a multi-agency Eviction Prevention Task Force with the goal of lowering evictions and helping impacted residents.

“There have been nearly 20K unemployment claims in Alexandria since the beginning of the pandemic,” tweeted Mayor Justin Wilson. “Keeping our residents housed during this uniquely challenging time has required partnership and new collaboration. More work is required.”

According to the city, the Task Force is made up of representatives from the Department of Community & Human Services, the Office of Housing, the City Attorney’s Office, the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office and community partners from Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Christ Church and emergency financial providers.

“The task force is collecting and sharing data and working to understand the local eviction landscape; identifying and resolving gaps in eviction prevention services; and engaging stakeholders to address this crisis,” according to the city. “The group is also seeking input from and collaboration with owners of rental properties. To submit input or inquire about opportunities to collaborate, email [email protected]

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

Last month, the city announced a second round of emergency one-time payment of $1,800 to households from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

The City also list the following resources for residents:

HELP WITH RENT PAYMENTS

  • COVID-19 Emergency Rent Relief Assistance Program. If you can’t pay your full rent due to COVID-19 related loss of income, you may be eligible for a one time payment of up to $1,800. City Council has authorized a second payment of up to $1,800 for those households already assisted. The City is continuing to accept applications for a new rent relief program. To learn about the program and eligibility criteria, visit the COVID-19 Emergency Rent Relief Assistance Program. Apply for assistance online or by calling the Office of Housing at 703.746.3100 during city business hours. Please call 703.746.4990 if you would like a hard copy of the application or have further questions. No application fee.
  • Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) is designed to support housing stability during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial assistance, rent or mortgage payments for eligible households. This includes payments past due beginning April 1, 2020. Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility. Learn more about eligibility and documentation requirements | Spanish | Amharic Arabic. To conduct a self-assessment for eligibility, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility.  To apply in the City of Alexandria, call the DCHS Office of Community Services at 703.746.5700.
  • OCS Rental Assistance Program. The Office of Community Services (OCS) provides rental assistance to eligible, low-income persons facing a housing crisis.  The goal is to help stabilize the household and to prevent the household from becoming homeless.  To request any OCS services, please call the DCHS Customer Call Center at 703.746.5700 for an assessment.

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While a moratorium on evictions is temporarily back in place, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has proposed legislation that could give residents more of a chance to avoid them in the long term.

“This bill is a win-win and will stem the potential tide of evictions in Virginia,” Ebbin said on social media, “and has consensus support from tenants and landlords alike.”

The legislation requires landlords who own more than four rental dwelling units, or more than 10% interest in more than four dwellings, to serve written notice to tenants of the total rent due and offer a payment plan prior to terminating the rental agreement. Under the payment plan, tenants must pay the total amount in equal monthly installments within six months or the time remaining under the rental agreement.

The legislation was introduced last Monday, Aug. 17, and moved to committee discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

If the tenant fails to pay any installment required by the payment plan within five days of the due date, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement.

Tenants who are participating in rent relief programs are explicitly protected under the ordinance. The change is not permanent, however, and is “not enforceable unless activated by executive order during a declared state of emergency.”

The legislation is the latest move in an ongoing back and forth over renters laid off amid record-high unemployment in Alexandria being required to continue making rent payments. Conflict between renters and landlords have led to protests and rental assistance offered by the City of Alexandria.

The bill was introduced by Ebbin and state Sen. John Bell, and is cosponsored by State Senators Barbara Favola, Jenn McClellan and Jennifer Boysko.

 

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Morning Notes

New Virginia Majority Wants to Suspend Evictions to April 2021 — “Do you live in SD-39 (parts of Alexandria, southern Fairfax County & northern Prince William County)? Your community needs YOU to urge Senator George Barker to support legislation to stop evictions in Virginia through April 30, 2021.” [Facebook]

Beyer Continues Daily Stream of Anti-Republican/Trump Social Messaging — “Still thinking about when Trump wanted to inject people with bleach.” [Twitter]

ACPS Looking for Volunteer Athletic Coaches — “T.C. Athletic Dept is working with coaches who would like to volunteer their time to start outside conditioning days for our athletes. We are polling parents of athletes to gather info so that it can be used to make our final decision.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Fire Department Hiring This Fall — “The next recruitment process for the Alexandria Fire Department is scheduled to begin this Fall!” [Twitter]

City Recognizes ‘Be Kind to Humankind Week’ — “Social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health.” [Facebook]

Flu Shots Available at Giant Food Stores — “Standard flu shots as well as high dose flu vaccines for customers over the age of 64 are available.” [Patch]

Today’s Weather — In the morning: “Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 94F. Winds W at 10 to 15 mph.” At night: “Partly to mostly cloudy. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low 69F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Floral Manager — “Designs and fashions live, cut, dried, and artificial floral and foliage arrangements for events such as holidays, anniversaries, weddings, parties, and funerals. Responsible for processing/ packaging/ stocking/ maintaining floral products according to standards, cleaning work areas, providing customer service unloading stock, and reloading salvage.” [Indeed]

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