Around 30 former Forest Cove tenants and housing advocates on Saturday picketed the downtown Atlanta office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), claiming the federal agency has turned a blind eye to years of negligence and mismanagement by Millennia Housing Management. The Ohio-based mega-landlord owns Atlanta’s infamous Forest Cove Apartments and about 30,000 other rental units nationally—many of them subsidized by HUD.
Tenants at the Atlanta rally said they feel like they’re shouting into the void, tangling with giants in the public and private sectors who don’t care about their housing conditions. They marched from HUD’s office at 40 Marietta St., near Five Points, to Atlanta City Hall, chanting, “When tenant rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up; fight back!” and “Hey hey, ho ho; Millennia has got to go!”
The Millennia Resistance Campaign—a national coalition of activists and tenants seeking redress from Millennia and increased HUD oversight for what they consider years of indifference to renters’ wellbeing—organized the Atlanta event as part of a national day of action. The group also held a protest in Memphis and planned one in Little Rock, but it was postponed due to devastating tornadoes.
Almost half of the Atlanta protesters used to live at Forest Cove. They said during speeches and in interviews with Atlanta Civic Circle that the April 1 assembly was the latest of many attempts to pressure HUD to investigate Millennia over apartment conditions so uninhabitable that a city judge condemned Forest Cove in late 2021—and to sharpen its oversight and enforcement practices for Millennia and other Section 8 landlords, who receive millions of dollars in HUD funding.
The Millennia Resistance Campaign also wants HUD to pay reparations to the Millennia tenants who have paid out of pocket for repairs, and to impose consequences on the company for years of documented mismanagement.
HUD has declined to answer questions on whether or how it intends to hold Millennia accountable, saying only in email statements to Atlanta Civic Circle that the agency keeps a watchful eye on all its housing complexes and takes complaints seriously.
“I’d rather go back to Forest Cove”
Many of the ex-Forest Cove tenants said they’re still dealing with the fallout from their tenancy at the dilapidated and dangerous complex—months after the condemnation prompted the city of Atlanta to intervene and relocate over 200 households to different rental complexes scattered across the metro area.
One said conditions at their new apartment are no better, and another said it’s difficult to find housing because of the stigma of having rented at Forest Cove.
Public officials promised the Forest Cove tenants a new lease on life. But six months after the city-led relocation effort concluded in October, many of the people who’d lived at Forest Cove for years—including the dozen or so who attended the April 1 rally—say their new apartments are in equally poor condition, and they’re facing the same problems of pests, mold, and violent crime.
“I’d rather go back to Forest Cove,” said Chastity Spear, who lived at the complex for five years before the relocation team placed her and her elderly mother in Decatur’s Arborside Apartments. Forest Cove was a last resort after escaping an abusive relationship, she told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview. But the living conditions in her new home “are no better,” she said.
“It feels like we just got thrown somewhere,” Spear said. She recently had to comfort her six children as gunfire erupted near her new apartment, and she said her landlord disrespected her when she asked for functional kitchen appliances—treating her like she should just keep quiet and be grateful to have put Forest Cove behind her.
After waiting three months for a working stove, Spear said, the property manager told her, “We didn’t want y’all [Forest Cove renters] here anyway; that’s why it took so long.”
Others are finding that their tenancy at the notorious Section 8 complex has branded them pariahs in metro Atlanta’s increasingly competitive and expensive housing market.
After living at Forest Cove for a decade, Stephanie Hobson, with her young son in tow, moved out in the summer of 2021—before the city’s relocation effort launched the following year—to try to find habitable housing on her own. Now, she’s homeless, and said she’s been denied housing by multiple landlords who see on lease applications that she once lived at Forest Cove.
“If our home at Forest Cove had been livable, even for a little bit longer, I would have been part of the relocation,” Hobson said. “Last night, we slept in my truck.” Because she left her subsidized apartment at Forest Cove, she said, HUD won’t grant her another Section 8 voucher.
Her son has been struggling in school and acting out, she added, because of the turmoil and lingering sense of instability about where to live.
When Madrika Gray lived at Forest Cove, she said, “It used to rain in my room.” She and her children got sick after a burst pipe left their apartment speckled with mold. Her landlord and property manager were slow to help, she said, because HUD didn’t pressure them to.
HUD has penalized landlords in the past
There is precedent for penalizing negligent landlords, American Friends Service Committee organizer Foluke Nunn said on Saturday. After years of complaints, she pointed out, HUD revoked federal funding from Global Ministries Foundation, Forest Cove’s former owner, and forced it to sell its 38-property Section 8 housing portfolio to Millennia, then the property manager for Global Ministries.
Global Ministries chief executive Richard Hamlet told Atlanta Civic Circle in 2021 that Millennia paid roughly $250 million in the deal. Nunn said HUD could force the Ohio-based company to do the same.
“Unfortunately,” Nunn said, “our [HUD] region in the Southeast has a reputation for being very slow on things.” If HUD is going to step in to help Millennia tenants, she added, another regional office might have to lead the charge.
Nunn also said she’s disappointed that House Bill 404, the “Safe at Home Act,” failed to pass the state legislature this year. It would have enacted a “bare minimum” standard for tenant rights, she said, by requiring rental units be “habitable.”
Housing activists complained the bill lacked teeth, since it didn’t actually define “habitability,” but they said it would have been an important first step toward Georgia establishing a statewide tenant-protection law, especially if the federal government can’t be relied upon to keep residences livable.
“It’s disappointing,” Nunn said of the bill’s failure. “But it’s not surprising. Sure, that bill wasn’t super toothy or anything, but it at least [would have] established a minimum standard.”