FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 14, 2021
Alexis Meisels, firstname.lastname@example.org, 973-986-1126
CIM Group Most Aggressive in Alexandria Eviction Proceedings Amid Pandemic
New report highlights publicly financed mass evictions of Black immigrant tenants; tenants organize a union in response
ALEXANDRIA, VA— A report released today, Invested in Evictions: CIM Group, Southern Towers, and the Crisis of Publicly Financed Displacement, reveals that CIM Group (CIM) – a Los Angeles-based private real estate company – is the largest single-source of eviction filings in the City of Alexandria, disproportionately putting Black and immigrant families at risk of displacement amidst the ongoing pandemic.
The report exposes how the threat of mass evictions is enabled by public financing: Freddie Mac, a taxpayer-owned financial institution formed to promote affordable housing, gave CIM Group a low-interest loan to purchase the 2,261 unit building in the largest multifamily property purchase of 2020. Other funding sources include public sector employee pension funds and a Small Business Administration loan through the CARES Act.
"Since October, CIM has charged us extra fees, increased rent, shut off the water, caused roach and rodent infestations and horrible smells by locking the trash room, put the elevator out of service, and began towing cars of guests after abruptly raising parking fees," says Ikram Meskaoui, a Southern Towers Tenant Union Leader who moved to the community from Morocco in 2008. "Rather than responding to our requests for rental assistance or offers to make partial payments, the office of their general manager called the police on us many times. CIM doesn't want to talk to us because high-wage Amazon employees will be here next year. We have worked hard to give them our money, and they have repeatedly dehumanized us by treating us with less respect than the promise of new tenants."
Southern Towers is one of the largest immigrant enclaves in Virginia and the D.C. metro area and has been a home to a majority of African immigrant tenants for decades. Nearly two-thirds of residents are Black and over 60 percent of the residents are foreign born. As thousands of these tenants were laid off due to COVID, CIM has pursued aggressive eviction practices including imposing late payment fees and initiating court proceedings despite a statewide eviction moratorium.
"Whenever we have a business, a developer, or a company come into the City of Alexandria we need them to be more than a good neighbor. We need them to be a good community member," says Alexandria Councilmember Canek Aguirre. "It’s clear that the CIM Group has a lot of work to do."
Among the key findings:
CIM has brought 541 eviction proceedings against residents of Southern Towers since it acquired the building in August 2020, more than any other apartment building in Alexandria.
CIM properties represented 27% of all eviction proceedings in the city, despite representing only 9% of the total rental units in Alexandria.
Over the course of the pandemic and economic crisis, CIM has obtained over $441,000 in legal judgments against families unable to pay their rent.
Although the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) moratorium on evictions has prevented CIM from physically evicting families to date, the aggressive eviction filings have inspired widespread fear among the residents, including immigrants who have fled repressive governments or struggle with English as a second language. Some fearful residents simply did not attend the court proceedings leading to “default judgments.” Others “self- evicted” rather than go to court and fight, and most stood alone without legal representation against CIM’s hired lawyers. Upon the expiration of the CDC moratorium, many residents with outstanding eviction cases will likely be displaced.
"My family and I have been a part of the Southern Towers community ever since we lost our first home during the financial crisis in 2010," said Southern Towers Tenant Union Leader Sami Bourma, who immigrated to the United States from Sudan in 1997. "After I lost all three of my jobs last March due to the pandemic, I was immediately threatened by building management to leave. Rather than honoring the spirit of Virginia's eviction moratorium, CIM Group has found loopholes to exploit it. I have been forced to attend four court hearings to remain housed. They are charging us an additional four hundred dollars to renew our lease if it expires, and we can't renew our lease if we are behind in our rent."
Despite repeated attempts by a group of tenants to meet with CIM to cooperatively discuss the evictions and long-term affordability issues at Southern Towers, the company has declared that it will only meet “one-on-one” with each individual resident. In response, tenants at Southern Towers are creating a formal tenant union to continue to press the company for justice, to advocate for changes to local and state laws that better protect tenants, and to ally with the national movement of renters to reform the broken housing system.
"It's egregious that residents are getting charged a ten percent late fee when they've been laid off due to a pandemic that is no fault of their own," says Amaha Kassa, Executive Director of African Communities Together, who has supported the tenants in organizing a union. "The moratorium has been an important safeguard for Southern Towers tenants but we also need a partner in CIM Group. We need a company that wants to do more to keep people in their homes. We hope the tenants will be able to work directly with CIM Group to help people stay."
Download the report and learn more about the #ACT4SouthernTowers Campaign at https://africans.us/southern-towers
African Communities Together (ACT) is an organization of African immigrants fighting for civil rights, opportunity, and a better life for our families here in the U.S. and worldwide. ACT empowers African immigrants to integrate socially, get ahead economically, and engage civically. We connect African immigrants to critical services, help Africans develop as leaders, and organize our communities on the issues that matter.
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