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Local housing advocates claim a fire that killed three people last week at a low-income housing complex in Little Rock, Ark., underscores the need for a federal investigation of property owner Millennia Housing Management—which also owns Atlanta’s notorious Forest Cove Apartments—but the company maintains that this incident plus two others don’t indicate a trend of negligence.
“It’s been established that Millennia’s negligence has deadly consequences,” Foluke Nunn, an American Friends Service Committee community organizer and activist with the Millennia Resistance Campaign, told Atlanta Civic Circle on Wednesday.
The devastating fire at Shorter College Garden Apartments in North Little Rock—plus a deadly carbon monoxide leak that killed a mother and child at a Millennia property in Mississippi last month, a gas leak explosion that hospitalized seven people at a Millennia complex in Florida in 2019, and repeated code enforcement violations and violent crime at Forest Cove, which was finally shut down last month—are evidence of that, she said.
But Millennia spokesperson Valerie Jerome said Millennia Resistance Campaign activists are peddling a “false narrative” by claiming the three separate events at Millennia properties in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida constitute a trend. “It is deeply sad and unfortunate that the campaign is using these circumstances to support a misguided agenda,” she said in an email.
Jerome said the cause of the Oct. 7 fire at Shorter College Garden Apartments is being investigated, and Millennia’s property management team in North Little Rock is “doing all that they can to support residents during this very difficult time.”
The Millennia spokesperson added that the three properties in question—Shorter College Garden in North Little Rock, Sunset Village Apartments in Cleveland, Miss., and Calloway Cove Apartments in Jacksonville, Fla.—were owned by Global Ministries Foundation before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ordered it to sell its national Section 8 portfolio to Millennia.
Today, Jerome said, all three complexes are undergoing or have undergone substantial rehabilitation: North Little Rock’s Shorter College Garden is in the pre-development phase; Sunset Village, in Cleveland, Miss., is under construction; and Calloway Cove, in Jacksonville, Fla., has been completely renovated.
Millennia CEO Frank Sinito also pushed back against the activists’ complaints in an Aug. 18 letter requesting a meeting with them, claiming that “Millennia preserved more affordable housing units than any other developer in 2020, and the second most units in 2021.”
“Millennia’s portfolio is stable and overwhelmingly performs well,” he said in the letter shared with Atlanta Civic Circle, adding that HUD “has and still does hold Millennia accountable” by physically inspecting its properties and performing “management and occupancy reviews, which concentrate on the regulatory compliance and physical conditions of the properties.”
Earlier this month, the Millennia Resistance Campaign turned down Sinito’s meeting request, telling him in an Oct. 3 letter shared with Atlanta Civic Circle that the member organizations had already met with the company repeatedly and determined the conversations “are minimally productive at best and do not address tenant concerns in a sustained way.”
As Millennia and the Millennia Resistance Campaign butt heads, HUD, which subsidizes rents at Millennia’s Section 8 properties, has been notably quiet regarding the activists’ demands for accountability over the property owner’s alleged negligence. In a statement from HUD spokesperson Shannon Watkins, the federal agency said only that “HUD continues to monitor the performance of the Millennia portfolio, both from its headquarters and local offices.”
“Instances of local code violation, health and safety concerns, or other areas of non-compliance are referred to Millennia to be addressed, and enforcement measures are pursued where warranted,” the HUD statement said.
HUD did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s questions about what the agency’s monitoring process looks like, whether or what enforcement actions HUD has taken against Millennia, or whether HUD investigates deaths at the properties it subsidizes with federal tax dollars.
Ethan Handelman, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary of multifamily housing, told lawyers from the National Housing Law Project—a Millennia Resistance Campaign member—in an Aug. 26 letter that HUD is reforming its inspection practices and plans to include resident input during future inspections. HUD also recently announced plans to require all federally subsidized rental units to have carbon monoxide detectors no later than Dec. 27.
That “is the extent of what they’re doing,” Nunn said. “I hope that HUD can be pushed to take action before more tenants lose their lives.”
In Atlanta, Millennia is gearing up to rehabilitate Forest Cove. The mayor’s office intervened in March after the southside apartment complex was condemned, and it relocated the roughly 200 families living there with help from community groups—a process that finally concluded on Oct. 3.
Financing for the planned renovation, which Millennia estimates could cost upwards of $56 million—or over $140,000 per unit for all 396 units—hinges on low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) awarded by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
Jerome, the Millennia spokesperson, told Atlanta Civic Circle earlier this month that Millennia plans to apply for the LIHTC’s before DCA’s Oct. 14 deadline.
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