A group of residents steadily began to form as the first police cruisers began blocking off the entrance to the Southwood Apartment complex.
In an hour, that group would steadily grow into a crowd of over 50 consisting of primarily residents, local organizers and labor union representatives. With signs in hand, reading “No More Rent Increase,” they had set out to put an end to drastic rent increases.
The rally, organized by political advocacy group New Virginia Majority, came after several residents received notices that, if they renewed their leases, they would face an increase in rent — with most, adding hundreds more to their bill.
Mark Hubbard, right, a consultant for Southwood Apartments, walks back to the rental office at the complex on Thursday as Jorge Figueroa, left, and New Virginia Majority organizers hold a rally to protest rent increases.
While the apartment complex agreed to discount his rent, Villanueva will still have to pay an additional $155 each month if he wants to continue living in the complex.
“We are human and we need to be treated with dignity and fairness, not rent increases,” Villanueva said.
Mark Hubbard, a consultant for the complex, said the average cost for a one-bedroom is $880; a two-bedroom is $1,180; a three-bedroom is $1,400; and a townhouse costs $1,500 to rent.
The new increases, which are universal for all tenants, include up to a $150 monthly increase for a one-bedroom and up to $250 for a two- or three-bedroom or townhouse.
“I think it would be hard to find a complex that’s not raising rents and our fees are extremely competitive for the market,” Hubbard said.
Across the city, rents have gone up drastically, and many across the city are feeling the cost burden. The protest also underlines the affordable housing crisis facing Richmond residents that has led City Hall to commit millions toward building more homes.
Southwood represents the city’s largest Latino neighborhood. Many residents feel like the rent hikes are predatory. With many living at the poverty line, with an average of $250 earnings per week, rent increases are not feasible.
Additionally, the complex has a long history of inhumane living conditions and inadequate services. In 2021, the Richmond Times-Dispatch investigated the living conditions of the residents of Southwood who were being exposed to mold, mice and roaches.
Since then, residents said they saw improvements to their homes. According to Hubbard, the complex spent millions to make necessary maintenance repairs.
Richmond residents and New Virginia Majority organizers hold signs spelling out "no more rent increases" during a rally at Southwood Apartments on Thursday.
But some tenants said they are still facing problems.
Jorge Figueroa, a five-year tenant, said his home needs major repairs. He said there is mold in his bathroom, the sink drains are rusted, and his floorboards are cracked and broken. This month, he received a notice that his rent will be increased drastically.
“The issue with the apartments is that they’re not getting the proper maintenance and there’s a lot of inhumane conditions,” Figueroa said.
With the demonstration, New Virginia Majority organizer Sofia Vega said the organization hopes to bring attention to the issue and help residents live a little easier without the financial burden.
According to Hubbard, the complex maintains an open-door policy.