Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office announced today that a city-led effort to relocate over 200 tenants—many with families—from the notoriously dilapidated and dangerous Forest Cove apartments has finally concluded.
But a housing activist coalition reiterated on Monday that it will keep pushing the federal government to investigate its allegations that the property owner, Millennia Housing Management, has mismanaged the condemned Thomasville Heights apartment complex and similar properties for low-income tenants that it owns across the country.
The city of Atlanta’s relocation team has moved the remaining 43 families from Forest Cove into new apartments accepting Section 8 vouchers, the mayor’s office said Monday, just over a week after announcing it had found them apartments—and seven months after the city took on the job of relocating the tenants from the complex, which was condemned last December.
Just before the city’s announcement, the Millennia Resistance Campaign, which is pressing for accountability from Millennia, turned down a meeting with the Ohio-based company’s CEO, Frank Sinito.
The group’s national member organizations—including Atlanta’s Housing Justice League and the American Friends Service Committee—have already “communicated extensively” with Millennia and determined that “these conversations are minimally productive at best and do not address tenant concerns in a sustained way,” they told Sinito in a reply to his Aug. 18 letter requesting a sit-down, which they shared with Atlanta Civic Circle.
Launched in April, the Millennia Resistance Campaign is instead focused on calling on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to audit Millennia’s management of Forest Cove and the other Section 8 apartment communities it owns nationally and to beef up oversight and enforcement “to ensure [housing providers are] providing decent, safe, and sanitary housing to families,” according to an Aug. 2 letter the group sent to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge.
The coalition of housing activists also called on HUD to “make Millennia tenants whole,” in the letter, alleging that HUD allowed Millennia to neglect its rental properties to the detriment of its residents.
HUD’s deputy assistant secretary, Ethan Handelman responded to the coalition on Aug. 26, saying the agency takes the accusations “very seriously” and is already improving its inspection protocol “to include resident engagement in the inspection process,” according to a copy of the letter reviewed by Atlanta Civic Circle.
“Millennia has fallen short of this [housing] standard for certain properties in its portfolio, and that is not acceptable,” Handelman said in HUD’s reply to the coalition, but he added that HUD’s options are limited. If HUD were to terminate its Section 8 subsidy agreement with Millennia, he wrote, “residents may be displaced into a very tight rental market while the community may lose the affordable housing resource permanently.”
Sinitio called the activists’ initiative a “campaign to vilify Millennia” in his Aug. 18 letter offering to meet with them. It is fueled by “inaccurate information,” the Millennia CEO wrote, claiming that the company’s rental housing portfolio “is stable and overwhelmingly performs well.” He added that most of Millennia’s properties are in good condition, and the problematic ones have either been rehabilitated or soon will be.
The Millennia Resistance Campaign’s Oct. 3 response to Sinito acknowledged that Millennia “has several efforts underway to bring its worst properties back into compliance,” but added that it is “not satisfied with their execution.”
“The renovations take an unreasonably long amount of time to be completed, the processes are full of hiccups and missteps, and the repairs are not done well when they are finally completed,” their letter said, adding that the group plans to provide HUD with more evidence of neglect.
Even so, Dickens’ announcement today marks a major milestone in the effort to rehouse the hundreds of families who for years had lived with rats, roaches, mold, and violent crime at Forest Cove.
After visiting the condemned complex in February, the new mayor intervened in March, announcing the city would spend $9.1 million for a team of nonprofits and a local consultancy—led by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta—to relocate the 211 families then living there into safe and habitable housing. (Millennia must reimburse the city in full once it finalizes a deal to either sell, restore, or rebuild Forest Cove, according to an agreement between the mayor’s office and Millennia.)
“I knew that, even though the city wasn’t responsible for the conditions there, we had a moral obligation to act,” Dickens said in the Oct. 3 announcement. “While our work is far from over, this is an important step for these residents who now have a chance to start fresh. We must now work with urgency to ensure these residents can return to a community that is safe, clean, and thriving.”
With all households off the premises, Millennia can now move forward with its stated plan to rehab the decades-old, 396-unit apartment complex, which an Atlanta judge deemed uninhabitable and ordered demolished in December. The property owner has said that will cost over $56 million—or more than $140,000 per unit.