Tenants at a public housing community on Atlanta’s southside are begging for the property owner to fix up the virtually uninhabitable complex.
Millennia Housing Management (MHM), which owns the Forest Cove apartments, told Atlanta Civic Circle this week that help is on the way, but residents say it’s not coming fast enough.
After years of teasing a purchase, MHM, the one-time property manager, purchased the complex from Global Ministries Foundation in April, promising to revive the community to the tune of more than $100,000 per unit and relocate residents during the renovation.
While they wait for construction to commense, though, residents at the 396-unit development are trapped in a lifestyle plagued by bugs, mold, litter and crime.
Over the summer, the Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) Code Enforcement Unit found 150 violations, “including broken windows; open, vacant units; vacant units improperly boarded; damaged siding; abandoned, inoperable vehicles; severe overgrowth; burned buildings and areas of accumulated debris and trash,” according to a Sept. 17 Facebook post by the department.
“We are appalled that some property owners and landlords have no shame or feel no responsibility to do what is right when it comes to living conditions like this,” the post continued. “Clearly these same owners and landlords who collect rent on these units from the most disenfranchised people in our community would not live in the same squalor or want their families to live in rundown and dangerous housing like this.”
Last week, Forest Cove tenants and affordable housing advocates rallied outside the apartments, demanding MHM speed up the resident relocation process and, in the meantime, repair some of the damages that make the community almost unlivable.
“Forest Cove residents are sick from our units and tired of broken promises,” activists wrote in a post on the ForestCoveTenants Instagram page. “We are calling for a smooth, quick and thorough relocation process, and for proper maintenance services while we wait to be moved.”
The residents, in concert with the advocacy group Housing Justice League, also launched an online petition calling on MHM to provide a more clear timeline for resident relocation and to promptly address the mounting maintenance issues at the property. The petition has garnered more than 200 signatures.
“Residents are expected to relocate offsite this Fall,” MHM spokeswoman Valerie Jerome told Atlanta Civic Circle on Tuesday. “The relocation partners” — including APD Urban Planning and Management, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Housing Justice League, Open Doors and Purpose Built Schools — “have held the group orientation sessions, started individual assessments, and begun to identify offsite housing locations in preparation for the moves. The process is following the requirements of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).”
Housing Justice League activists, though, noted in the petition, “Fall is here, and there is no sign that residents will begin to be moved anytime soon.”
Not so, Jerome contended. “More than 20 resident relocation meetings have been held and individual assessments are also underway,” she said. “Additionally, Open Doors is identifying off-site housing locations in preparation for the moves, and our relocation partner held a well-received relocation resource fair on Sept. 11.”
As for the maintenance requests, Jerome said, “work orders are addressed daily and prioritized by emergency and life safety issues (electrical, heating and cooling, plumbing, etc.).”
Residents should continue to report needed repairs, she added.
The more than $53 million restoration MHM has planned for Forest Cove could transform the long-languishing complex into a place residents would be glad to call home, but that effort will be a heavy lift.
“This thing doesn’t need a Band-Aid; we need surgery,” Richard Hamlet, CEO of the former property owner GMF, told Atlanta Civic Circle in April.Of the community’s current conditions, APD said, “There are few words to describe our feelings on this, but ‘pathetic’ and ‘despicable’ are somewhere near the top. That said, we will continue to apply pressure and utilize our resources and the expertise of our Code Enforcement Unit to hold the owners accountable.”