Our History

TWU first organized in the mid-1980s in response to the scheduled mass evictions of thousands of low-income renters in the Arlandria neighborhood of Alexandria. Wrongly assuming that residents would simply leave their homes to make way for gentrification, developers sought legal and illegal means to force people out. But the tenants stayed, they studied, and they organized. Together, we won a class-action lawsuit, staving off the evictions and giving us an incentive to keep organizing.

We translated our desire to stay into a “politics of permanence.” This meant finding a solution to the problems of eviction, soaring rents, and powerlessness. Following our initial organizing victories, we began a nearly ten-year campaign to create limited-equity cooperative housing in Alexandria. And we did: the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative (ACHC) is a 282-unit, limited equity housing cooperative, owned and democratically controlled by predominantly low-income residents.

Purchased by residents with support from the Federal Reserve Bank, the City of Alexandria, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the ACHC effectively removed a bloc of housing from the ravages of the market – and created a new bloc of homeowners and stakeholders in our community. From those beginnings in one neighborhood fighting for affordable housing, TWU expanded to city-wide issues such as access to healthcare and excellent public education and has now grown into a regional organization that is fighting anti-immigrant policies in Prince William County and supporting day laborers in Fairfax County.

The Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative (ACHC) established by TWU in the early 1990s


TWU's Community Center 


Tenants and Workers United opened the Arlandria-Chirilagua Community Center in December of 2004 as a place for our community to come together in struggle and in celebration. This was made possible thanks to a three-year-long campaign led by youth and adults of the Arlandria-Chirilagua community, and with over $100,000 in small donations made by TWU membership. In addition, contributions from the City of Alexandria, the Meyer Foundation, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, U.S. Representative James Moran, and BB&T Bank helped make the Center possible. Alexandria United Teens painted murals on the building to celebrate the growing diversity of Northern Virginia, and volunteers from Saint Mary’s created a Library for Social Change on the second floor.

The Arlandria-Chirilagua Community Center houses a multi-use community room, the offices of TWU, and non-profit and commercial rental offices. The community room is used by various community groups, unions, and people of faith, and our members gather here to socialize, struggle, and strategize together. Over the years, weddings have been held, campaigns hatched, and victories celebrated in the community room. The side of the building (left photo above) features a mural designed and painted by TWU youth and artist Marisela in 2006. The front of the building (right photo above) features a mural completed in the summer of 2019 as a collaborative project between TWU youth and local world-renowned artist, MasPaz.

The legacy continues today as TWU staff and members conduct leadership trainings, Homework Help, our Summer Youth Institute, and countless community meetings in this community space.



Our Victories

Power to the People! Over the years, we’ve won more than $100 million in living wage jobs, affordable housing, health care, public education resources, and other community benefits!

  • Unity was the childcare providers' campaign that increased access to quality childcare for low-income families and improved working conditions for childcare providers.
  • Prevented the eviction of thousands of families from the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood in the 1990’s.
  • Founded the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative (ACHC), a 282-unit housing complex that is owned and operated democratically by its resident-owners. To this day, ACHC is the only home ownership opportunity available for low-income people in Northern Virginia.
  • Launched Alexandria Union Cab, a worker-owned and -operated business with more than 230 drivers and a market value of $2 million.
  • Won a 35% discount for uninsured patients in the Inova Health System.
  • Successfully demanded that Alexandria City Public Schools hire bilingual (Spanish/English) parent liaisons to help parents communicate with teachers and to orient immigrant parents.
  • TWU Youth led the College Prep for All Campaign that led to creation and institutionalization of culturally sensitive, academically rigorous educational opportunities for all students in Alexandria City Public Schools.
  • Co-founded the national Right to the City Alliance (RCA), a coalition of over 40 organizations across the U.S. united in the struggle for urban rights. RCA fights for affordable housing, inclusive democracy, immigrant rights, environmental justice, etc.

Unity meeting circa 1994

Youth and parents speak at an Alexandria City Council meeting in 2021 about the need to reallocate funding from SROs to mental health resources

  • Won an annual increase of $350,000 to the city’s childcare provider reimbursement budget and helped institute policies such as due process, rights to bilingual notification for service providers in the Alexandria Department of Human Services, and expanded low-income family access to subsidized childcare.
  • Helped create a living wage law in Alexandria that resulted in the total wage increase of $450,000 for the lowest-paid municipal and outsourced workers in Alexandria.
  • Won a living wage law in Arlington, raising the minimum wage for all Arlington municipal employees, including school board employees, as well as a majority of outsourced workers to $11.00/hr (in collaboration with the Arlington Living Wage Coalition).
  • Eliminated over $1 million in medical debt for low-income residents of Alexandria.
  • Recovered millions for low-wage workers in Fairfax County.
  • Held 11 consecutive annual Health Fairs to provide critical services such as vision testing, cholesterol and HIV screenings to over 300 people each year.
  • Won a youth-led campaign to get Restorative Practices implemented in Alexandria City High School, and later pushed to expand the program to middle schools
  • Led the fights to end toxic collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE: Pressured Arlington County and Alexandria City to opt out of DHS Secure Communities in 2010; helped pressure the Fairfax County sheriff to terminate their contract with ICE in 2018; won concessions from the Alexandria Sheriff to reduce collaboration with ICE in 2019; organized a community-led fight to end the 287(g) program at the Prince-William Manassas Adult Detention Center.
  • Led the push to get the Alexandria City Council to reallocate funding from the School Resource Officer program to school-based mental health services for students.