Forest Cove tenants kicked off a rent strike Tuesday morning, just hours before Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens unveiled a plan for the city to help relocate the remaining families from the dilapidated Section 8 complex, which has been condemned by an Atlanta judge. 

And in a move that stunned residents and activists, the property owner, Millennia Housing Management, said residents won’t have to pay monthly rent until they’re relocated.

“Any resident with an outstanding balance can make an appointment with office staff to discuss past-due forgiveness,” Millennia said in a statement from spokesperson Valerie Jerome.

An Atlanta judge condemned the 396-unit complex in December, ordering Millennia to relocate tenants by March 1, and level the buildings before Sept. 22.

Millennia, which had previously said it would invest over $56 million to rehabilitate the property, has appealed the ruling, but its executives acknowledged earlier this month that demolition and reconstruction might be the only option.

In another unexpected development, Dickens’ office announced plans on Tuesday afternoon to direct municipal funds toward relocation efforts, which Millennia had said before the condemnation order would cost $9 million — and to fast-track the buildout of neighboring land owned by Atlanta Housing to accommodate the Forest Cove tenants.

“Mayor Dickens has directed Atlanta Housing, Invest Atlanta, and the city’s Department of Planning to make immediate plans to develop the Thomasville [Heights] housing site” — a public housing project razed in 2010 that’s adjacent to Forest Cove — spokesperson Michael Smith told Atlanta Civic Circle in a statement.

Tenants and activists march toward the Forest Cove leasing office to deliver a letter declaring the rent strike. (Credit: Sean Keenan)

The Mayor’s office has not yet announced a timeline for relocating the Forest Cove tenants, and further details of the plan are forthcoming, Smith said.

Renters at the decades-old community have complained for years of uninhabitable conditions, including rotting wood, sewage leaks, mold, rodents, roaches, and crime, and demanded Millennia — and its previous owner, Global Ministries Foundation, before that — remediate the complex. 

More than a dozen Forest Cove tenants and affordable housing advocates congregated outside Forest Cove Tuesday morning waving signs reading “HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT” and chanting, “When our homes are under attack, what do we do? Stand up; fight back!” 

Before Millennia agreed to forego rent collection, Housing Justice League organizers said it expected about 50 of the 211 remaining tenants to payments in protest of the deteriorated conditions and what they consider negligence by the property owner, which purchased the site in April.

Felicia “Ms. Peaches” Morris attempts to deliver a letter to the leasing office. (Credit: Sean Keenan)

Felicia Morris, a longtime Forest Cove resident and community leader who goes by “Ms. Peaches,” told Atlanta Civic Circle that the rent strike was a last resort after years of fruitless appeals for help.

“This is just how it has to happen,” she said. “We want to live safe and free like the rest of [Atlanta’s] people are living.”