National and local tenant advocates are demanding that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigate Millennia Housing Management, which owns Atlanta’s most notorious apartment complex, Forest Cove, and other poorly maintained Section 8 properties across the country.
Though many of the roughly 200 families living at Forest Cove, which was condemned in December, have been moved to other apartments through a city-led initiative, the lengthy and still ongoing relocation process has spotlighted the plight of Atlantans who use government subsidies to pay rent.
It’s up to HUD to hold Millennia accountable, American Friends Service Committee community organizer Foluke Nunn told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview, after the tenant advocates met with HUD officials via webcam on Wednesday.
“Millennia can make promises and not do anything. But the whole reason we’re in this situation is because HUD has a reluctance to do everything in its power to hold Millennia accountable,” said Nunn, who’s been working with the Forest Cove tenants for months.
HUD did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s request for comment.
The American Friends Service Committee, the National Housing Law Project, Atlanta’s Housing Justice League, and an extensive roster of renter advocacy groups sent a letter to HUD on Aug. 2, alleging Millennia “demonstrated a clear and disturbing pattern of mismanagement and neglect” in how it has run Forest Cove and other rental communities.
According to the tenant advocates, Forest Cove’s uninhabitable condition is a glaring example of how Millennia, an Ohio-based real estate investor, runs its Section 8 properties.
The coalition urged HUD’s Office of Inspector General to go beyond investigating Millennia and probe other negligent landlords receiving Section 8 funds from HUD. They demanded the federal agency get to the “root causes of poor conditions within HUD’s project-based Section 8 portfolio.”
The tenant rights coalition met virtually with HUD officials on Wednesday to follow up on their concerns. They also are asking HUD to protect Section 8 tenants’ right to organize without fear of retaliation from landlords, to fund tenant organizing activities, and to make reparations to the renters at Forest Cove and other Millennia-owned apartments.
The coalition says these tenants have had to spend their own money on repairs, moving expenses, and medical expenses for injuries incurred from living in hazardous conditions.
Forest Cove tenants have been “forced to use their own limited resources to maintain their units, pay for injuries and medical care related to injuries caused by the poor housing conditions, and expenses for hotel stays and other moving expenses when the conditions become too hazardous,” the coalition’s demand letter said.
Nunn described the meeting as a “baby step.” “HUD didn’t commit to anything,” she said.
Beyond Millennia, the tenant coalition is calling for HUD to strengthen its oversight and enforcement mechanisms—and to rescind Section 8 funding for abusive landlords.
Section 8 residences should be safe and sanitary, it said, not just inhabitable. “It is unconscionable that tenants who live in housing created and supported with federal dollars continue to face terrible housing conditions.”
“HUD must utilize existing tools to address poor housing conditions when owners fail to comply,” the coalition added. Those tools include levying civil penalties on negligent owners, suspending or canceling their Section 8 contracts, or even requiring them to install new management.
Today, Millennia CEO Frank Sinito responded to the National Housing Law Project’s public complaints earlier in August about how it manages its Section 8 properties nationally, accusing the group of carrying out a “public campaign to spread inaccurate information.”
Many of the real estate investor’s properties are correctly managed, Sinito said in an Aug. 18 letter to the legal group. “Regarding property conditions, you do not reference the vast majority of properties with successful physical inspections or the circumstances where deeply distressed communities have been transformed into safe, sanitary, and modernized communities where residents thrive.”
Sinito added that most Millennia properties accepting Section 8 vouchers pass HUD inspections.
He also said in his letter that Millennia is willing to meet with the advocates—despite their “campaign to vilify Millennia”—to “help us collectively address the needs of residents.”
This story was updated on Aug. 18, 2022 at 8:12 p.m. to remove mention of Millennia properties’ HUD inspection results, since some scores were from before the company took control of the sites or after the sites were restored.