After years of braving roaches and rodents, mold and litter, and all-too-frequent shootings, some Forest Cove tenants who’ve finally moved out through a city-led relocation initiative are reporting that their new apartments are plagued by their own health hazards.
Other tenants are still stuck at Forest Cove, which is owned by Ohio-based Millennia Housing Management, even though the apartment complex was condemned at the end of 2021.
“I am ready to move, haven’t gotten my choices, and my apartment is falling apart,” wrote one tenant responding to a recent survey about how the relocation effort is going. “I am disabled, and I feel like my apartment is becoming a health hazard.”
Forty of Forest Cove’s 202 households responded to the survey conducted from July 11 to July 20 by advocacy groups Housing Justice League and the American Friends Service Committee, which they shared with Atlanta Civic Circle.
The survey responses and follow-up interviews highlight the shortcomings of the sprawling relocation effort initiated by the city months ago to get people out of one of the most violent and dangerous apartment complexes in Atlanta.
“When I came to move in, I saw about 14 spiders, then the roaches, then 20,000 gnats,” Tyneka Thomas, who was rehoused July 5, wrote in her survey responses. The apartment’s property manager “won’t even tell me where they’re coming from,” she said. “And the trash on the lower-level apartment is ridiculous, [as is] the trash in the back.”
Thomas told Atlanta Civic Circle she exterminated the spiders and roaches with pest spray, but clouds of gnats are still swarming around the Lithonia apartment she moved to with her 12-year-old son. She doesn’t know when the property manager or the relocation team will eradicate the flies, which she believes come from the abundant litter around the complex.
Even so, she said, “It’s better than where I lived.”
Thomas said that at least she doesn’t have to worry about gun violence anymore, because “police are always out here.” Rodents also don’t seem to be a problem at her new home, she added. “When I’m in the kitchen cooking, I’m not afraid a rat might come out from my cabinet.”
Another survey respondent said the ceiling was leaking at their new apartment, and part of it caved in on them. “I wasn’t able to go to the hospital because I didn’t have anyone to watch my kids,” they said. “I was seen by an ambulance.”
Others were “satisfied” with their new apartments, but said they’ve already had problems with appliances malfunctioning.
Only five of the 40 survey respondents—which make up about 20% of Forest Cove’s 202 households—had actually been moved, as of July 20.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in May set an Aug. 1 deadline for the Forest Cove households to be relocated—particularly those with children—to coincide with the start of Atlanta Public Schools’ fall semester. But the relocation effort is well behind schedule, and less than half of the households are expected to be relocated by then.
That’s partly because the relocation team, spearheaded by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, has been struggling to find sufficient apartments available at metro Atlanta apartment complexes that accept government-subsidized rent payments. There is a particularly severe apartment shortage for families needing multi-bedroom units.
As of Friday, 38 of the 202 Forest Cove families had moved, and “all remaining families are in the multi-step process to move,” mayor’s office spokesperson Michael Smith told Atlanta Civic Circle in an email.
“Progress has been slower than any of us would have liked,” Smith said. “Simply put, the relocation cannot happen fast enough.”
The current pace puts the relocation team well behind the timeline it set at a July 15 town hall held to update the Forest Cove tenants. At that point, 28 families had moved, according to the mayor’s office.
Community Foundation president Frank Fernandez said that day that 40 additional families would be relocated by Aug. 1—a goal that looks unlikely—adding that half of those would put up temporarily in hotels while they picked a suitable unit, according to WABE.
Dickens told the Forest Cove residents at the town hall that the city had identified enough apartments to house the remaining households.
Relatedly, many of the survey respondents also complained of communication lapses in the relocation process, saying they’d received no reply to their questions from consulting firm APD Urban Planning + Management or the nonprofits on the relocation team.
“I haven’t been contacted to even start my relocation process,” one said. “School starts in less than a month, and I still don’t have a potential area for a potential school. Also, they don’t respond at all.”
Another described the relocation team’s communicative efforts simply as “horrible.”
Aside from the mayor’s office, relocation team members did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s requests for comment by publication time.
Some residents have experienced a smooth transition from Forest Cove to their new homes. One wrote that the relocation team—especially consulting firm APD Urban —“has been VERY helpful.”
But those kinds of notes were few and far between.