After months of delays, the more than 200 families still living at the condemned Forest Cove apartments could be relocated before school starts Aug. 1, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office announced Monday.
Dickens’ administration said the city will allocate $1.5 million in pandemic relief funds to pay security deposits and other fees, so tenants living at the Section 8 complex can afford to move. The city also inked a deal for the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta to manage the relocation efforts and to disburse the money, which is the first tranche of a $9.1 million commitment of federal funds the city’s made to help relocate Forest Cove tenants.
“While this isn’t a city-owned property, I could not stand by as these residents continued to be left behind,” Dickens said in the announcement. He signed a bill from Atlanta City Councilmember Jason Winston, who represents Forest Cove’s Southside district, that authorizes the city to use federal COVID-19 relief funds for Forest Cove residents’ move-in fees.
The city, with property owner Millennia Housing Management and a team of community organizations, aims to relocate all Forest Cove households before the beginning of the school year, so children attending Atlanta Public Schools will be able to register at their new schools in time, according to the announcement.
But it’s still not clear where the residents will go. Forest Cove tenants use subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help pay rent, so the relocation delay is largely because other apartment complexes willing to accept housing vouchers are scarce.
Dickens initially said in March that the tenants would be rehoused by July 15. The city intervened after an Atlanta judge condemned Forest Cove in late December and ordered Millennia to relocate the residents by March 1. But Millennia appealed the condemnation order, which paused the March 1 deadline and prompted the city to get involved.
Housing Justice League activist Foluke Nunn told Atlanta Civic Circle that residents are cautiously optimistic about the news. “This seems like a big step forward,” she said. “This money will make it so the first round of tenants can begin moving soon.”
But “residents at Forest Cove are growing weary of broken promises,” said Housing Justice League’s executive director, Alison Johnson. “The progress and process of relocating people out of Forest Cove has been slow-moving.”
Time is of the essence because of the dilapidated and unsafe conditions at Forest Cove, Johnson warned. “Many residents continue to endure extreme home-maintenance conditions, which is creating an additional level of trauma,” she explained. “With 90-degree temperatures, those residents with inoperable A/C units are sweltering in heat, with no way out.”
The city still has not found enough apartments for all of Forest Cove’s households. Dickens in February announced city officials had identified 170 apartments that would accept the Section 8 vouchers, but many wouldn’t have matched the families’ needs, due to the floorplans or because the community might already be drawing federal subsidy.
That’s still the case, Nunn said Wednesday. While some residents are already touring potential new homes, she said, “The question is still: ‘When will units be able to be identified for the rest of the tenants?’”
The mayors’ office is working with the Atlanta Apartment Association and metro Atlanta apartment owners to find additional housing options for Forest Cove residents, the administration said Monday.
It asked property owners with available Section 8 units to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each household will be able to look at a minimum of three apartments before choosing one, the announcement said. The relocation team, which is made up of the Community Foundation, Open Doors, APD Urban Planning Management, and other community organizations, will help them find furniture and other household necessities.
Meanwhile, Forest Cove’s tenants have been living for years in housing plagued by pests, mold, litter, and crime, while waiting for Millennia and Forest Cove’s previous owner, Global Ministries Foundation, which sold the complex in April of last year, to make good on their promises to improve harmful living conditions.
The tenants staged a successful rent strike in February, supported by Housing Justice League, and haven’t been paying Millennia rent since.