Just a few weeks before their leases expire in June, some tenants the city of Atlanta relocated last year from the Southside’s condemned Forest Cove apartment complex still don’t know whether they’ll be able to stay in their new apartments—or if they’ll soon find themselves adrift in Atlanta’s highly competitive and increasingly expensive housing market.
“Residents are feeling extremely anxious about their housing stability right now,” said American Friends Service Committee organizer Foluke Nunn, who’s been hosting virtual meetings with the rehoused Forest Cove residents twice monthly to field their concerns and update them on the city-led relocation team’s efforts to rectify eviction threats and other problems.
“Residents have been asking me about lease renewals,” she told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview. “I have folks who get on the resident calls every single time, saying, ‘My kids are in school; I need to know what’s going to happen.’”
“I don’t know what to tell them,” Nunn said.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens pledged early last year to safely relocate all Forest Cove residents from the dilapidated and dangerous complex, which is owned by Ohio-based Millennia Housing Management, after it was condemned by a city judge in December 2021.
The mayor’s office announced last June that the first of roughly 200 tenants had been rehoused by the city’s relocation team, which is led by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
But the $9.1 million in federal pandemic relief money that the city is spending to keep the former Forest Cove residents housed is only supposed to support them for a year. Millennia is obligated to repay the resettlement money.
The initial leases will lapse in less than three months, while the last Forest Cove tenants were resettled in October.
The Community Foundation’s chief executive, Frank Fernandez, said in an email, “All of the partners are working on how we can work with former Forest Cove residents (and HUD and Millennia) to create a longer-term, sustainable solution from a housing and social service perspective.”
“We don’t have a clear plan yet,” he said, noting the team is “working with urgency to figure that out given the impending lease expirations.”
Millennia, which did not respond to requests for comment, has said it plans to renovate Forest Cove and has invited residents to return, but that could take several years. What’s more, its potentially $56 million plan—which calls for upwards of $140,000 of restoration work per apartment at the 396-unit complex—hinges on securing tax credits from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
The DCA told Atlanta Civic Circle on Thursday afternoon that Millennia’s October application for the tax credits had been denied.
Additionally, some tenants have been threatened by their new landlords with eviction due to nonpayment of rent. At least six tenants had evictions filed against them in January, and several more received warnings in February. At an Atlanta City Council meeting on Feb. 14, Joshua Humphries from the mayor’s office said the city was resolving the glitches in disbursing payments to the tenants’ many landlords.
However, Nunn said tenants have received late payment notices as recently as March 9.
Fenandez, the Community Foundation head, said the March 9 eviction warning “was sent in error,” adding, “The payment was made on time.”
The city and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, a relocation team member, have told Atlanta Civic Circle that no one will be kicked out for nonpayment. AVLF represents tenants who’ve been served evictions. But some tenants remain wary.
Compounding the renters’ worries, the city’s relocation team has not yet supplied many of the rehoused people the furniture and MARTA cards they were promised.
Mayor’s office spokesperson Michael Smith said in an email that the city recently launched a hotline for ex-Forest Cove renters to report their concerns over eviction notices, furniture, MARTA cards, and moving expenses..
“We are updating our needs assessments for each household, and this will be conducted by March 31,” he said. “The needs assessment will identify any outstanding furniture needs and concerns not expressed through the hotline, so that they can be addressed.”
Smith said the Community Foundation has taken over rent payments from APD Urban Planning and Management, which left the relocation team in February, and AVLF has assumed the responsibility of paying tenants’ utility bills and distributing MARTA cards.
The city is also coordinating with advocacy group Housing Justice League “to address the specific issues for the residents” who attended the impromptu Feb. 14 meeting with City Hall officials, he said.
“This is the first step in creating and launching a compliance review process,” Smith said.
But the mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on what happens when the former Forest Cove residents’ current leases expire.
“On just about every resident call, I have to reassure folks that they won’t be left out on the street and something will be figured out,” Nunn, the community organizer said.
“But, I also am trying to remind them that they have to demand the outcome that they want,” she said. “This is why it is so important for residents to show up to speak, like they did at City Hall last month, because keeping the pressure on is the only way we can make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 23, 2023 at 3:17 p.m. to indicate that the Georgia Department of Community Affairs had denied Millennia’s request for tax credits that would have helped finance Forest Cove’s restoration.