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Residents protest rent increase, ‘unsafe’ living conditions at Groveton apartments

The rent is getting too high, residents of a committed affordable housing complex near Huntley Meadows Park say.

The owner of Lafayette Apartments (7136 Groveton Gardens Road) in Groveton increased rents starting on June 1, even though living conditions have become “unsafe” and “hazardous” in recent years, according to Tenant and Workers United (TWU), a local grassroots organization that supports advocacy efforts by low-income communities of color.

In a protest organized by TWU, residents gathered at the apartment complex’s playground on Sept. 7 to urge Jonathan Rose Companies to stop raising their rents and address maintenance issues.

“These sudden, predatory rent increases for apartments with significant health and safety issues are shocking,” TWU community organizer Marianela Funes said. “It’s this type of behavior that forces our neighbors out of their homes and displaces entire communities.”

Vartania Olivia says she and other residents started organizing with TWU about three months ago after they were informed in May that their rents would be increased.

According to TWU, rents were increased by the maximum increment allowed for a property eligible to receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The organization says residents reported “widespread inconsistency” in the amount of the increases and the wording of the notices they received.

A Lafayette Apartments resident for over 11 years, Yesenia Climato says she got a letter stating that her rent would go up by $200 a month on June 1. However, if she didn’t agree to the new rate by signing the letter, the rent would automatically increase even more by $321.

“This increase is too high,” Climato said. “What we want is a stop in the rent increase. We are a low-income community and this is too much for us.”

Rose Community Management, which manages the Lafayette Apartments, confirmed that it increased rents by 10% on average, which it says is “significantly lower than what is allowed by law” for a designated affordable housing community.

The increases came after the company voluntarily froze rents for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokesperson said. With the neighborhood’s area median income rising 18% over that time, the building could legally raise rents by as much as 17%, according to Rose Community Management.

“It is now necessary to raise rents at the Lafayette Apartments to keep pace with inflation and rising property payroll and operating costs to ensure the property remains in good working order,” the Rose Community Management spokesperson said in a statement. “…We look forward to continuing to serve residents in this affordable apartment community.”

Jonathan Rose says it has completed over $9 million in repairs and maintenance since buying the property, including roof replacements, balcony and chimney updates, modernization of the water heaters, and improvements to the unit floors, countertops and kitchen appliances.

However, residents say conditions have deteriorated since Jonathan Rose acquired the 340-unit property in May 2016.

Issues have included neglected maintenance requests, rodent infestations, unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, and unusable common areas, according to TWU.

“This property has been in such bad condition. They never pay attention to our maintenance requests,” Olivia said. “The pool has been closed for over 4 years. We have pest [infestations].”

The Lafayette Apartments swimming pool reopened on Aug. 18 after being closed for several years due to the pandemic and repairs, according to the property manager.

In light of the rent increases, some residents fear the owner is preparing to sell the apartments, though TWU didn’t elaborate on the basis for that speculation. Jonathan Rose didn’t comment on whether there are any plans to put the property on the market.

“That leaves the future of the community in limbo,” TWU said. “This community is facing exorbitant increases in rent coupled with a lack of maintenance repairs and living conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy. The management company must do better.”

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