by Jake Burns/WTVR 6 News Richmond
RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of tenants living at the Community at Southwood, a 1,300-unit apartment complex off Hull Street in South Richmond, rallied outside the leasing office Monday in protest of what they claim is deferred maintenance and safety issues.
The apartment complex, through a spokesperson, said problems were being resolved as quickly as possible.
At the rally, tenants held signs with broken hearts on them, a somewhat sarcastic nod to a sign hung by management on this public-facing side of the complex that reads, “We (heart symbol) Southwood.”
“These people are Southwood, and we’re not convinced you guys love us,” said Sofia Vega with New Virginia Majority, the local advocacy group working with the tenants.
Many of those Vega is working with are immigrants, and the group is working to document what they said are maintenance issues that continue to go unaddressed. Protestors tried to present more than 60 documents listing maintenance concerns to the leasing office Monday, but no one answered the door.
“The biggest issue I think I see is probably cockroaches, rats. There’s also the stoves,” Vega said. “A lot of people have issues with short circuits in the kitchen, like electrical appliances. Someone’s microwave caught fire a few weeks ago.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch did an extensive investigation into living conditions at Southwood, which is home to a large population of Latino residents. Former Attorney General Mark Herring (D) launched a Civil Rights probe into the complex based on that reporting.
“Obviously, immigrants come here and they’re not aware of their legal rights, and they don’t think they have any in general because when they cross the border they think their rights are taken away. If they speak up, they’ll get deported or evicted, and they don’t want that,” Vega said.
In response to the rally, a spokesperson for Southwood said since the end of January more than 75-percent of the 1,300-plus units have been assessed for maintenance issues and pest infestations. In the few instances, the complex said required repairs, the spokesperson said the tenants had not reported the issue to the maintenance department.
“We want to work with our residents to address their concerns and continue being responsive to their needs. We will be offering housekeeping support and resources and promoting how we can all work together to be good neighbors,” the spokesperson Mark Hubbard said in a statement. “Any new tenants and apartment renewals at Southwood will be given the opportunity on Wednesday evenings to attend a Housekeeping 101 class. Participants in the class will receive $20 worth of cleaning supplies and upon the one-hour completion will be given a $50 certificate off their next month’s rent.”
Tina Tonzo, who has lived in Southwood for six years, walked up to the protest to share her thoughts. Tonzo said she enjoys living there, that maintenance issues she experienced were quickly fixed and feels the complex is getting a bad wrap.
“If you call them in the morning, they’ll be there by the end of the day,” Tonzo said of complaints she has filed. “It’s not that I’m against them. I’m against nobody. We all live here on this property. If they get together and work together to get it together, then it’ll be fine.”
The residents working with New Virginia Majority said they have been filing complaints, for months or longer in some cases, but feel they are ignored or brushed aside. It is one reason they are working to document the alleged issues and present them in writing to the complex.
“I know they have a lot to do, but at the same time, they wouldn’t have a lot to do if they were constantly repairing things as they should have been,” Vega said.
Housing advocates were concerned about the status of the Civil Rights investigation into Southwood when Attorney General Jason Miyares took office and fired the lawyer handling it, according to reports. A spokesperson for Miyares said the investigation does remain ongoing, and they cannot provide further comment.
Vega denied claims from Southwood officials that New Virginia Majority was telling residents to not let maintenance workers inside their units. The complex said they currently have no outstanding complaints with the City of Richmond.