Community News

SOUTHWOOD APARTMENTS UNDER SCRUTINY

Originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 67, printed February 3. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Delaney Jooris

A Richmond Times-Dispatch investigation has found that residents of the Southwood Apartments complex on Richmond’s South Side have been living in unsafe and uninhabitable conditions. The management of the complex has blamed these conditions on the residents’ so-called “poor housekeeping.”

With 1,296 units, the 62-year-old complex is Richmond’s largest Latino/a neighborhood. In a survey of 100 Southwood residents conducted by the advocacy nonprofit organization New Virginia Majority, more than half of respondents reported having rodents and roaches in their apartments. About 60 percent said there was mold and reported that ceilings, doors, floors or walls were in bad condition.

Melany Sura, a Southwood resident, reports spending $200 a month on cleaning supplies she uses to keep her apartment free of mold.

After visiting the complex, City inspectors labeled two units uninhabitable. Residents had to be relocated until management addressed the violations.

Many residents report that Southwood’s management is habitually unresponsive to service requests. However, Caroll Steele, the complex’s property manager, tells a different story. In her response to inquiries from the Times-Dispatch, Steele said the residents of Southwood themselves are responsible for the poor living conditions.

“A vast majority of our residents are very easy to work with and have little to no complaints,” she wrote. “We do have some residents from third-world countries that have poor housekeeping issues and have brought the pest control issues with them upon moving into their apartment.”

In alignment with Steele’s logic, Southwood’s management will be offering weekly “Housekeeping 101” classes to residents and providing them with free cleaning supplies.

In January, the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring launched a housing discrimination investigation of Southwood’s management. However, after newly-elected AG Jason S. Miyares took over the office, he ordered the firing of 30 employees, including 17 attorneys, one of whom was Helen Hardimann, the lawyer investigating Southwood’s conditions.

A spokesperson for Miyares said the investigation would nevertheless continue.

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