The bright pink notices were slipped under hundreds of doors in the aging brick garden apartments off Beauregard Street in Alexandria. It was a call to arms.
The Mark Winkler Co. had announced in September that the 60-year-old real estate company and its estimated $1 billion in property holdings were all up for sale, including the four garden apartment complexes off Beauregard Street.
Housing activists quickly went into action.
"We're going to do whatever we can in our power to stymie a sale, condo conversion or markedly higher rental rates," said John Liss of the Tenants' and Workers' Support Committee (renamed last week as Tenants and Workers United). "In terms of scale, this sale is unprecedented in my 25 years in Alexandria. We're talking about one-third of the affordable housing stock being wiped out in one fell swoop."
Liss said that residents in the garden apartments are a diverse mixture of Latinos, blacks, whites, Africans, Arabs and many elderly people who have lived in their apartments for decades. "In terms of Alexandria, I've never seen that many people of different backgrounds living in one place," Liss said. "I thought one of the city's goals was to maintain diversity."
In a Nov. 10 letter to residents, Winkler officials wrote that while they are exploring refinancing, recapitalization, joint ventures, outside investors, and selling or swapping properties, no one would be forced from their home.
"Any rumors you may have heard about imminent condominium conversions, evictions or extraordinary rent increases are precisely that -- rumors that have no factual basis," Winkler officials wrote. "There is a real possibility that there will be no impact on you or your residency."
Still, City Council members are concerned that any change may mean the loss of affordable housing. City planners estimate that about 2,425 rental units in the city were converted to condominiums in the last year.
"This would be a tremendous blow for workforce housing in Alexandria," Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper said. "We're trying to work with those who are bidding on the property. Our interest is in maintaining as much affordable housing as possible."
Winkler chief executive Randal B. Kell said that he does not foresee a new owner coming in and charging higher rents and that he doubts the units would convert to condos in the near future.
But he acknowledged there are no guarantees.
"Like anyone who owns apartments, we're not putting any limitation on anyone who buys them," he said. "They're free to do what local law and zoning allows them to do."