Several residents of the Southern Towers apartment complex in Alexandria have been on a rent strike since April.
About a dozen Alexandria residents who are facing eviction stopped by the Clifton home of Virginia state Sen. George Barker (D-39) Tuesday night to push for an extension of the state's eviction moratorium.
The residents all live in Southern Towers, an apartment complex where hundreds of tenants have been on a rent strike since April. More than 150 households in the complex say they've received eviction notices.
Evictions are currently on hold in Virginia through September 7. But the residents lobbied Barker, who chairs the state General Laws and Technology Committee, to support a proposal from State Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-10) to extend the moratoriumthrough next spring. The Virginia General Assembly will meet in a special session next week to take on COVID-related issues and police reform. Hashmi is one of a few senators planning to propose solutions to the state's looming eviction crisis.
Barker's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Bert Bayou, director of the D.C.-area chapter of African Communities Together and an organizer of the strike, says the residents—many of whom are immigrants from Ethiopia—invited the lawmaker to join them outside his home for coffee and conversation, a request he obliged.
"We had a full Ethiopian coffee ceremony set up outside of his house with snacks, with popcorn and sambusas, and asked him if he would come out and talk to us, hear the tenants' stories," Bayou says. "Within a month, they're all in danger of being evicted."
While Bayou says Barker did not commit to supporting Hashmi's proposal, he says Barker listened to tenants' concerns. Residents are planning future discussions and demonstrations, which may include additional visits to local lawmakers' homes.
Bell Partners says in an email that it has offered payment plans for Southern Towers residents facing "financial hardship" since the beginning of the pandemic and that company representatives are available to meet with residents "who would like to discuss their options."
Bezunesh Jimma has taken the company up on that offer, but has not been able to negotiate a payment plan she can afford. Jimma has lived at Southern Towers for more than five years. She was laid off in March and has been unable to pay rent for her and her octogenarian mother. She has received an eviction notice, she says, and fears she will lose her home once the moratorium ends.
"This is the time I have to stand and fight for me and for my mom because maybe next month we will be on the street," Jimma says. "No one cares for us."
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last weekend that said his administration "will take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19," yet housing advocates say the order does little to ban future evictions.
The current eviction moratorium in Virginia was enacted through a state Supreme Court decision last week. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam asked the court for an extended moratorium in late July.