Tenants at The Forest at Columbia are battling with their new landlord, Meridian Management Group, to stave off huge rent hikes at the low-income apartment complex in Decatur after Meridian initially tried to evict them.

In the latest salvo, Columbia Forest tenants and organizers delivered a letter to DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson on Sept. 7, urging him to intervene. They are asking Johnson to stand by a promise they say he made over a month ago to help them relocate. 

Johnson could not be reached for comment by press time.  

Meridian announced after buying the property in May that it would be evicting the roughly 200 tenants by Aug. 31, according to the tenants and organizers from the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL).

Sherlonda Mckay, one of the lead organizers for the Columbia Forest tenants association, said they were blindsided by the news. “We just woke up one day and there was a note out,” she said. “Some of these apartments are Section 8. Some of us have no income. Where are we supposed to go?” 

Meridian provided no follow-up plan for relocating the 200 families living at Columbia Forest and did not respond to their questions about what it would do with the property, said McKay. 

Meridian did not respond to a request for comment.

By July, the tenants formed their own tenants association, the Fighters of Columbia Forest, and started working with the PSL, which calls itself a “multi-racial and anti-racist socialist party,”  to push back against Meridian and prevent evictions. They started staging protests and knocking on doors in the neighborhood to drum up community support. 

Advocates rally outside the DeKalb County government office to support tenants’ rights. Credit: Kendall Glynn for ACC

Tenants and organizers confronted Johnson, the DeKalb commissioner, on Aug. 4, when he made a public appearance at an outdoor concert.

They interrupted Johnson’s speech with their protests about their situation and the commissioner soon came off stage to speak to the group, according to Estevan Hernandez, the PSL’s lead organizer with the Columbia Forest tenants.

Johnson and staff from Dekalb’s Community Development Department visited Columbia Forest the next day and pledged to help all of the tenants relocate to affordable housing, according to Hernandez and the tenants.

Soon after, Meridian called off the evictions, which the tenants and organizers attribute to Johnson lobbying on the tenant’s behalf. “We think he put pressure on Meridian because we were putting pressure on him,” said Hernandez. 

But their win was short-lived. Meridian announced in August that it would be hiking rent by as much as 50% instead of evicting the tenants, which Hernandez said will price the tenants out anyway.  Most tenants have been informed their rent will increase from about $800 per month to about $1,200 per month, he said.

What’s more, Hernandez said, Meridian is now asking the tenants for back rent. The new owner had refused to accept rent for July and August because it expected all the tenants to be out by August 31, he explained, but with mass evictions off the table, Meridian informed tenants at the end of August that they must pay the back rent. 

“Nobody here has that kind of money on hand. They’ve already spent it on the stuff they need to live or on rental applications to other places,” he said. 

Tenants and organizers said they have tried to contact Meridian and Johnson about the steep rent increases, but haven’t received a response. About half of the 200 tenants at Columbia Forest when Meridian took over are still there, said Hernandez.

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  1. If legally doable, something from The Godfather comes to mind: Larry should make Meridian an offer they can’t refuse. He should tell Meridian to expect an extremely steep increase in its DeKalb property taxes to help the county offset the tenants’ economic distress…OR IT SHOULD BACK OFF!!! Maybe time for Commissioner Johnson to get more creative in the leadership department when a disadvantaged community desperately needs it most.

  2. Someone need to investigate villas of Decatur they raise the rent trash everywhere nothing gets fix some one need to come in under cover

  3. Let’s analyze the situation The complex is in horrible condition. The complex is just shy of needing to be demolished. Those kind of repairs are extremely difficult to do with people on site. Excessive noise and utility interruptions As soon as somebody gets hurt they’re going to want to sue.
    They say renovate and then move people in as they complete units?
    So it’s the Management’s company job to spend 20k(low ball number) per unit and just eat the cost of renovations and not expect a return on their investment?

    the company should not ask for back rent they told those people that had to move. So any reasonable person would expect to divert that money to new living arrangements.

    The county govt could offer to buy the complex and operate themselves but they know operating a low income complex is very difficult and expensive. If they want low cost housing they should have never torn the public housing down. Or the tenants can get together and co-op the property.

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