Twenty-seven formerly homeless renters living with mental illness could soon be kicked out of their southwest Atlanta apartment complex. The new landlord, Meridian Management Group, plans to boost rent to market rates, placing these tenants at risk of becoming unhoused once again.
For seven years, local nonprofit 3Keys, Inc. had an agreement with the owner of the Adams House apartments to pay rent and utilities, using government subsidies, for its 27 clients, to whom it provides mental health assistance and other supportive services.
But in February, a Texas-based limited liability company—identified in property records only as “ATL 1890 Holdings LLC et al”—bought the property for over $32 million and put Meridian in charge of the complex. (When the property last sold, in late 2019, it cost less than $10 million.)
3Keys chief executive Scott Walker said in an interview that Meridian wants to raise the rent for his clients’ one-bedroom units from $880 a month with utilities, to $1,050 for just rent—a steep increase, even if the landlord were willing to accept payments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or from people with little to no income.
“Our individuals suffer with anxiety,” Walker said. “They suffer with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etcetera, so anything that upsets the apple cart for them just doesn’t bode well.”
Meridian, which could not be reached by phone or email for this story, told 3Keys in August that it would stop accepting HUD payments from the nonprofit or any other agencies, according to Mackenzie Harkins, 3Keys’ external affairs director.
According to Meridian’s LinkedIn profile, the Atlanta-based property manager “maintains a sharp focus on investor return on investment.”
No Georgia law requires landlords to accept government-subsidized rent checks, nor do any limit how much landlords can hike rent.
3Keys would like to sign a new supportive services agreement with Adams House’s new owner, but “we don’t even know who the new owner is,” Walker said, adding that Meridian is instead evicting his clients.
Most of the 27 tenants’ leases have already expired, and the remaining few will lapse on Oct. 1, according to notices to vacate that Meridian sent to 3Keys on Sept. 23, which were reviewed by Atlanta Civic Circle.
Walker said Meridian wants 3Keys residents out of the Adams House apartments “like yesterday,” although “they’re continuing to take our rent.”
Once the landlord stops accepting checks from the nonprofit—its legal right after the leases expire—these 27 residents could find themselves without homes yet again.
3Keys is now in a mad dash to find other Atlanta apartments for its clients. But that is much easier said than done, Harkins told Atlanta Civic Circle in an email.
“This process isn’t overnight, because we have to make sure each property passes HUD-required inspection, and we follow all regulations for moving residents between properties,” she said.
“While this is certainly a paperwork trail for us, the burden truly rests on our residents who, by no fault of their own or our agency, are once again feeling housing instability—a horrible place to be plunged back into,” she added.
Affordable intown apartments where landlords will accept government-subsidized rent payments are few and far between—as the ongoing saga of the city’s effort to relocate Forest Cove residents from their condemned southside complex has shown. That effort is now in its eighth month.
Finding landlords amenable to renting to people who experience mental health issues and have lived on the streets adds an extra challenge for 3Keys.
3Keys aims to start moving Adams House residents out in October, Harkins said, “but we have to have units available to do so.”
Meridian has shut off utilities and neglected to make repairs as a tactic to push 3Keys residents out of the complex, Walker alleged. The 3Keys CEO added that the landlord has also made bogus claims accusing the nonprofit of failing to pay its clients’ rent on time.
“We’ve never been late with our rent,” he said. “We’re always on time with our payments.”
When a fire in July damaged three Adams House apartments, it was 3Keys, not the landlord, that paid to put tenants up in hotels and footed the bill for their transportation and food, Walker said. Meridian has said the units won’t be fixed until early 2023, according to Harkins.
This is not the only recent instance of Meridian attempting to price out renters at complexes it manages.
Lower-income renters at The Forest at Columbia, a Decatur apartment complex that came under Meridian’s management in May, have organized with housing advocates to protest a rent hike from about $800 to $1,200 per month—and appealed to DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson to intervene—but so far, to no avail.