Residents of the Communities at Southwood gather with organizers from New Virginia Majority on Monday, April 25, 2022 to submit 62 new tenant repair requests to the apartment complex management office. According to Elena Camacho, with New Virginia Majority, management has gotten better about trying to address repairs needed in the apartments, but more still needs to be done. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH
Elena Camacho stood in front of a crowd of over 50 people Monday, holding a small bullhorn in one hand and a manila folder filled with maintenance requests in the other, as she and families from the Southwood apartment community marched toward the landlord’s office.
Camacho and organizers from the New Virginia Majority — a statewide advocacy organization that focuses on issues facing immigrant communities — are helping to bring awareness to the untenable living conditions of Richmond’s largest Latino neighborhood.
The goal of Monday’s rally was to submit 62 new maintenance request forms directly to management and hold them accountable should they refuse to act on those requests.
Elena Camacho, with New Virginia Majority, holds the 62 new tenant repair requests being submitted to the leasing office of the Communities at Southwood on Monday, April 25, 2022. Like in November 2021, when organizers from New Virginia Majority submitted 2 tenant repair requests, the office doors were locked and the requests had to be submitted via the after-hours mailbox. This time however, people were seen being let into the office just minutes before. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH
“I think they have been doing something,” Camacho told The Times-Dispatch on Monday. “So we want to continue. We don’t want tenants [to] think we forgot about them.”
In previous correspondence with The Times-Dispatch, Mark Hubbard, a spokesperson for the property management company The Communities at Southwood, detailed some of the work that has been done.
Hubbard said the property company has answered hundreds of requests from its tenants to address such things as bathroom fixtures, appliance repairs and light fixtures. It has also added outdoor trash containers, increased trash pick-ups and updated some of the 1,300 units.
The property management company has now visited more than 900 apartments, according to Hubbard. However, Camacho said there are still requests that have gone unanswered.
She and fellow organizer Sofia Vega have worked with families in Southwood for more than a year and have seen first-hand the conditions they have had to endure.
“Management has been doing some things so there’s been some activity,” Vega told The Times-Dispatch in an interview on Monday. “They’re trying to make it seem like everything’s okay. But on a deeper level, they’re not really changing anything.”
(From left) Residents Dislaury Holguin, Dermilesa Estevez and Jeshly Estevez, 1, join a rally outside the leasing office at the Communities at Southwood on Monday, April 25, 2022. Residents and organizers gathered to submit 62 new tenant repair requests to the apartment complex management office. Like in November 2021, when organizers from New Virginia Majority submitted 2 tenant repair requests, the office doors were locked and the requests had to be submitted via the after-hours mailbox. This time however, people were seen being let into the office just minutes before. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH
Vega said the fact that more than 50 people showed up Monday shows the prevalence of the issue.
“Many of the people who weren’t able to come, sent their neighbors or family members in place as well,” Vega said.
The plan was to deliver their written requests in person, but when Camacho, Vega and the tenants of Southwood approached, they said they found the leasing office locked, even though it was during operating hours and there were people inside.
“We were basically trying to get as many residents as we could to fill out these forms, just to have the proof that we turned in these repair requests,” Vega said. “If in a few weeks their issues haven’t been resolved, then we can be like, ‘Hey, you know, here’s the form we were turned in a few weeks ago and proof that they submitted it. Now what are you going to do about it?’”
Vega said the way she has seen the community grow and unite for a better cause has been amazing — despite their failed attempt to submit the requests face-to-face.
Moving forward, Camacho and Vega said they plan to continue to communicate with Southwood’s residents until their living conditions improve.
Vega said they’re still knocking on doors hoping to recruit as many people as they can to their cause.