After purchasing the dilapidated Forest Cove apartments on the Southside last April, Millennia Housing Management announced plans to invest over $56 million to rehabilitate them. But an Atlanta judge has condemned the property as a public nuisance and crime magnet, ordering its demolition and the swift relocation of its tenants, Atlanta Civic Circle has learned.
Millennia officials told Atlanta Civic Circle just last week that the only obstacle to achieving its lofty revitalization plans — estimated to cost upwards of $140,000 per unit for 396 units — was the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) approval of a tax break needed to secure construction financing.
But Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Christopher Portis condemned Forest Cove on Dec. 27, at the behest of the City of Atlanta. The judge has given the Ohio-based real estate firm until March 1 to relocate Forest Cove tenants and until Sept. 22 to level the complex.
“Between Jan. 2020 and Aug. 2021, the Atlanta Police Department received between 650 and 700 service calls for various reasons, including, but not limited to, domestic violence, burglary, robbery, and homicide committed at the property,” the order said of the Section 8 complex.
Millennia filed a notice to appeal on Wednesday, although company representatives did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s questions regarding what that could mean for Forest Cove tenants or the relocation timeline.
The Dec. 27 order, citing information from the city, starkly documents a community plagued for years by mold, rodents, refuse, and violent crime — and a negligent manager and owner. Forest Cove has accumulated 231 housing and commercial code complaints in the Atlanta Municipal Court since 2017, when Millennia started managing the property before the April 2021 purchase.
“Residents are forced to live with the ‘twin evils’ of life-threatening crime and unsanitary living conditions,” the order said.
So what happens to the tenants who will be displaced by the condemnation? The judge directed Millennia to relocate the remaining 200-plus households still living at Forest Cove, noting that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has already approved the tenants’ Section 8 housing vouchers to follow them as part of the tenant relocation plan already formulated by the developer for the now-scratched renovation.
Millennia earlier estimated that relocating all of the families would cost $9 million, according to its renovation plan.
Millennia months ago assembled a team of local organizations to help relocate Forest Cove residents so they could stay close to their jobs and their children’s schools, including APD Urban Planning and Management, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Housing Justice League, Open Doors, and Purpose Built Schools.
But some renters could be moved as far as 10 miles away, according to the resident relocation plans Millennia filed to contest the condemnation action.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens told Atlanta Civic Circle his office is working on a solution that will provide Forest Cove’s renters refuge from the squalor.
“We are working through some scenarios to solve the issues at Forest Cove,” he said in a text message. “We have a pathway that requires just two agreements, [and] if I get those locked in, we are on our way in the next month.”
Dickens did not say what those agreements entail, but a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said in a follow-up statement: “We are monitoring the situation at Forest Cove and assessing how the city can assist the affected families and surrounding community. Mayor Dickens remains committed to ensuring the dignity and housing security of all Atlanta residents.”
Only six of the 211 families living at the complex have been relocated so far, according to city officials.
Carla Smith, the Atlanta City Council member who represented Forest Cove’s district until Jan. 3, said in November that “she had no confidence that [Millennia] would relocate the residents,” according to the judge’s order.
Smith said Friday that she still doubts Millennia will follow through. “Based on the past behavior of the owner, since taking over management in 2017, I have no confidence in their ability to perform, because they have done nothing they said they would,” she told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The judge’s order expressed similar doubts. “The owners have done nothing to correct the current citations and have only spoken about their future plans for the property,” Portis wrote, despite the firm receiving hundreds of citations from the City of Atlanta for a wide range of housing code violations.
This isn’t the first time Millennia has come under fire for operating unsafe, uninhabitable low-income communities. A Houston Chronicle investigation last year, called “Living Hell,” revealed similar issues — including pests, mold, and crime — at Millennia-owned properties in Missouri, Texas, and Florida.
Millennia’s vice president of tax credit development, Arthur Krauer, said last week that the critical news coverage wouldn’t impact the still-pending application it filed with the DCA in 2018 for a 4% Low Income Housing Tax Credit request, but multiple city officials told Atlanta Civic Circle this week that the chances of securing that subsidy vanished with the judge’s condemnation order.
Despite the condemnation order, Millennia said in a statement that it “remains committed to the rehabilitation of Forest Cove.”
“We will continue to work with our local, state, and federal housing and finance partners to achieve that goal,” the statement, supplied by company spokesperson Valerie Jerome, continued.
“After decades of decline, Millennia acquired the community in April of 2021 and has invested more than $13.7 million toward its revitalization,” the statement said. “Currently, our focus is on the relocation of residents and executing a development plan that will bring residents back to a newly transformed community that will serve as a beacon of hope for the community at large.”