For years, residents of the 2,664 apartments along Beauregard Street in Alexandria's West End neighborhood have been in a sort of rental purgatory, uncertain how long they would be able to stay in their modestly priced homes.
They knew their landlord and four nearby property owners had struck a deal with the city to allow them to greatly expand the number of apartments, and guarantee only 800 affordable units.
That meant that most of the residents — house cleaners, taxi drivers, restaurant cooks and construction workers — would have to find a new place to live, new schools for their children and a new commute.
Then, last week, JBG Cos. sold the apartments and an adjacent shopping center to Pennsylvania-based Morgan Properties for $509 million, a 150-acre deal that is one of the biggest real estate transactions in Virginia so far this year.
Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks said city officials will sit down with Morgan Properties representatives sometime this month to discuss the company's plans, including whether it intends to tear down the garden-style apartments, in a bucolic setting with lots of grass and mature trees, and build something denser and more grand.
"The sale by JBG is bittersweet," Jinks said. "It does reduce the risk of immediate displacement of residents. But the risk is still out there of gradual economic displacement as they upgrade, improve and rents rise."
Morgan Properties President Jonathan Morgan said his firm, which owns 40,000 apartments in 10 states, in the past has bought complexes to operate, not redevelop.
But he also said the previously negotiated agreement between the city and JBG, which would allow the firm to nearly triple the housing density, "was definitely a big draw for us."
The company has "no immediate plans to redevelop," Morgan said, but does intend to renovate the aging units and consolidate JBG's six communities — Hillwood, Stoneridge, Meadow Creek, Lynbrook, Brookdale and Willow Run — into four.
Morgan said the company will spend $35 million to install new washers and dryers, upgrade kitchens and make exterior improvements. It plans to renovate the clubhouse, adding a fitness center, business center, movie theater, club room, a putting green and dog park.
Hearing about all those improvements made Christina Koprivica, a single mother who was at the community pool one day last week with her 6-year-old son, Roman, concerned about whether her rent will rise.
"I just worry about what's to come," the federal government employee said. She heard years ago that JBG planned to raze her building, but "every time I went to renew my lease, [the redevelopment] was pushed back, pushed back."
Karen Ortiz, who's lived in the Brookdale community for three years with her husband, said she is "waiting to see what the new owners are going to do." The couple, who have a flooring and construction business, are trying to save for a home for themselves and their 2-year-old daughter, Brittany. "I feel safe here," she said.
Average monthly rents across the complexes on Beauregard are about $1,400, well below the average monthly rent in Alexandria's more upscale and gentrifying neighborhoods. City officials say the buildings have had an occupancy rate of 95 percent for the past several years.
Although Alexandria has 1,150 public housing units for the poor, the Beauregard area is home to the city's biggest section of privately owned housing that's affordable to low- and moderate-income families. In addition to the nearly 2,700 apartments just purchased by Morgan, Duke Realty, Southern Towers, Home Properties and Hekemian together own about 2,300 units there.
A protracted negotiation with the property owners in 2012 and 2013 resulted in a deal that required developers to provide 800 units of guaranteed affordable housing for the next 40 years in exchange for almost tripling the number of apartments allowed in that portion of Alexandria.
Developers must also contribute $66 million for traffic improvements, $11 million for a city fire station and more than $12 million for recreation and other public amenities, including 40 acres of open space.
Some separate efforts to build or preserve affordable housing in the Beauregard area are underway, including the Goodwin House senior housing expansion; set-aside units at Southern Towers; a partnership between the city and nonprofit developer AHC to add 93 apartments at the site of the former St. James Methodist Church; and a city-underwritten effort to support affordable housing at the Church of the Resurrection.
Evelin Urrutia, executive director of the local nonprofit organization Tenants and Workers United, said she is skeptical that Morgan Properties will be satisfied with upgrading and operating the existing apartments when the opportunity to build more is available.
"The ones who will be suffering are people of color and working-class people," she said. "We want to know what the city is going to do about it."
Beauregard resident Marlon Menacho, carrying his lunch cooler home from work one recent day, had not heard about the sale. Nor did he know that his community has been at risk of demolition for five years.
He has rented in the complex for four months and said he likes the easy access to the Beltway, Interstate 395 and the bus to Metro. Like everyone else, he worries about the rent. But he also noted that there are other factors that will affect where he lives.
"My wife is coming from Peru soon and I don't know if she will like it here," he said. "If not, we move. You have to keep your wife happy."