When Millennia Housing Management bought the Forest Cove apartments last April, it was a glimmer of hope for tenants of the long-neglected and virtually uninhabitable Section 8 housing complex on Atlanta’s Southside.
But last week, Millennia’s promise to rehabilitate the property appeared to vanish, as company executives acknowledged in a letter to tenants that demolition might be the only option.
A municipal judge’s Dec. 27 condemnation order threw a wrench in the renovation plans, forcing Millennia instead to expedite the tenants’ relocation. The Ohio-based developer had budgeted $9 million for relocation expenses, expected to be a temporary phase while it restored the complex, but now that could become a longer and more costly process.
Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Christopher Portis has ordered Millennia to relocate the tenants by March 1, in advance of the apartments’ demolition. Millennia is appealing the order. According to the Feb. 3 letter to tenants, Millennia is seeking help to relocate roughly 210 families still living at Forest Cove.
“Even though Millennia has appealed the order, which stays all mandates, Millennia has requested assistance and guidance from local government agencies, such as the city of Atlanta, and housing partners, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as it relates to obtaining the resources to move residents offsite,” the letter says.
But Millennia has not yet announced details of the renewed relocation effort. Officials with Millennia, the city, and HUD have not responded to Atlanta Civic Circle’s requests for more information.
Millennia last year assembled a team of local groups — including Purpose Built Schools, which manages Thomasville Heights Elementary School, across the street from Forest Cove — to help relocate residents, but, so far, none of the roughly 200 remaining families have been moved, a Millennia spokesperson told Atlanta Civic Circle last week.
“As part of the relocation process, a number of households started to view apartments,” Valerie Jerome said in an email. “But they did not yet move offsite.”
The tenant letter also indicates that Millennia hopes to rebuild Forest Cove: “If the order stands, and demolition is required, we will continue to work together with all stakeholders – residents, [the Georgia Department of Community Affairs], the city of Atlanta, housing and community partners — on the future development of Forest Cove; from this group, we will solicit input that will create a holistic redesign of the apartment development.”
Before the judge condemned the site, calling for boosted security and a fast-tracked resident relocation plan, Millennia planned to invest upwards of $56 million — more than $140,000 per unit for 396 units — to replace rotting wood, clean up mold, eradicate pests, and create a livable environment for the hundreds of families who have long found themselves trapped in squalid conditions.
But now, according to the letter, Millennia intends to solicit community input for a “robust and thoughtful development plan for new construction.”
In the meantime, the relocation deadline is fast-approaching. Millennia’s stated goal has been to keep tenants close to their jobs and their children’s schools. Before the condemnation news broke, Millennia said it planned to keep everyone within 10 miles of Forest Cove.
But Thomasville Heights’ student body is made up almost entirely of kids who live at Forest Cove, so it’s unclear what could happen to the school — and the students — if families are scattered.
What’s more, Forest Cove’s tenants rely on Section 8 vouchers, which HUD has said are portable when a property is deemed unsafe, so their relocation is contingent on finding units for over 200 households in other apartment complexes that accept the vouchers.