Residents of Brookville Town Homes, a 310-unit, West Alexandria apartment complex, say higher rents resulting from recent renovations are driving some moderate- and fixed-income tenants from their homes there.
At a public hearing before the Alexandria Landlord/Tenant Relations Board last week, more than 100 residents turned up to express their concerns about rent increases requested by Dreyfuss Brothers Inc., a Bethesda-based firm that manages the complex.
"Middle-class people have a right to fair housing. They shouldn't be forced out," Joanne Tomasello, an organizing member of Brookville Community of Tenants.
In each of the past two years, rents were raised 15 percent to meet the costs of renovating the apartments, which were built in the late 1950s, said tenants and the management company. This year, some tenants whose units have been renovated are receiving rent increases of 30 to 40 percent, tenants said.
The nine-member Landlord/Tenant Relations Board, which is composed of homeowners, tenants and landlords, recommended that Dreyfuss cut back the increases and address some of the tenants' concerns about improving the energy efficiency of the units. The board's recommendations are not legally binding.
According to Joseph Schuble, executive vice president of Dreyfuss, the new rents are in line with market prices in Alexandria.
"We've been below the average rents," he said. "We started the renovation program in early 1986 and that's why there are the rent increases. I am sorry if people have been forced out. I don't want to force people out."
Rose Lynne Ulm, president of Brookville Community of Tenants, said the rent on her three-bedroom town house will jump from $499 a month to $685 in October. Such increases, she said, are too high for many of the moderate-income tenants with children and people on fixed incomes.
Schuble said that about 190 of the 310 units have been renovated. New bathroom fixtures and appliances, including washers, dryers, dishwashers and microwave ovens, have been installed. There are also plans to improve exterior lighting.
Tenants argue that the new kitchens and bathrooms are cosmetic renovations that do not address more serious problems such as the need to replace single-casement windows that are not energy-efficient and old plumbing and electrical systems.
Residents said they were also distressed when the management began removing screen doors, which they said were used to ventilate apartments during the summer to cut down on the use of air conditioners and save on utility bills.
The Landlord/Tenant Relations Board found that the some of the Brookville complaints had merit, said Mark Looney, chief of the Alexandria board.
Looney said he hopes to set up a meeting between Dreyfuss and the rent guidelines committee of the city's Landlord/Tenants Division. "I would hope that Dreyfuss, having seen the very large turnout, one of the largest we've ever had for a hearing by tenants, would look at our recommendations seriously," Looney said.
City officials expressed concern that housing for moderate-income families in the city is dwindling.
"It seems to be happening all over Alexandria. Many rental units are being upgraded. They're just pricing people out," said City Council member Redella S. (Del) Pepper, who lives near Brookville.
Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said the city is aware of the housing problems and is trying to subsidize rents for as many families as possible.