The city-led team that relocated 188 households from the southside’s condemned Forest Cove Apartments placed over a quarter of them in complexes identified as “dangerous dwellings,” an Atlanta Civic Circle investigation has found.
The government-subsidized complex is owned by Ohio-based mega-landlord Millennia Housing Management, a company that’s drawn complaints of mismanagement from housing advocates nationwide.
Fifty-one of the Forest Cove families that the city of Atlanta and its nonprofit partners rehoused last year—after a municipal judge condemned the complex in December 2021, citing dozens of housing code violations, violent crime, and other safety issues—now are living in apartment complexes that have been similarly plagued by pests and mold, drug deals and deadly shootings.
Those 51 households are scattered across the metro region—from College Park to Decatur to Union City and beyond—in nine complexes that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified in its Dangerous Dwellings database, a vast catalog of metro-area rental complexes known for “serious crimes, lax maintenance, and other hazards [that] make these among the most persistently dangerous apartment complexes in the Atlanta metro area in recent years.”
The AJC published the list in December, two months after the city finally finished moving everyone out of Forest Cove.
Six of the nine “dangerous dwellings” where ex-Forest Cove tenants are now living have experienced frequent reports of crime problems, such as thefts and shootings. Five have been cited in the paper’s archive for substandard living conditions or fire damage. Three of the complexes were among those the AJC identified for both.
“We’re not only dealing with an affordability crisis; there is also a habitability crisis in metro Atlanta,” said Foluke Nunn, a community organizer with the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit watchdog for the former Forest Cove residents during the relocation process.
Nunn blames Millennia for allowing Forest Cove to deteriorate, but she mostly faults the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for failing to hold the low-income housing landlord accountable for properly maintaining its properties.
The city of Atlanta and its relocation team partners, she said, took on a Herculean task to rehouse nearly 200 Section 8 renters in a tight rental housing market whose landlords mostly do not want them. The team is spearheaded by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, with help from Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Open Doors Atlanta, COR, and, previously, APD Urban Planning + Management.
It was practically inevitable that the city’s relocation team would place some Forest Cove residents in substandard apartments, due to the staggering dearth of available affordable units in metro Atlanta, Nunn said—but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
“As tenants leave Forest Cove,” she said, “you can’t just put them into the mouth of a different lion.”
Where tenants went
Some of Forest Cove’s Section 8 renters opted out of the city’s relocation process to seek out new places to live on their own, but most worked with the relocation team, uprooting their children from schools in the Thomasville Heights community and leaving their longtime neighborhood to join the migration.
The team placed nine Forest Cove households at the Bridgewater at Mt. Zion complex, in Stockbridge, where, according to the AJC’s database, at least three people have been shot—including one killed—and 270 9-1-1 calls have been logged in the past five years.
Nine more households went to the Slate at Decatur, and another nine resettled at The Summit in Union City—both of which also have a documented history of violent crimes and “dangerous, uninhabitable, and unfit buildings,” the AJC said.
The team also rehoused seven families at the Park in London, located in Ellenwood, in southeast DeKalb County; six at Elite at Lakeview and five at Elite at 285, which are both in Atlanta; four at Park at 500, in Stone Mountain; and one each at Hidden Valley in Decatur, and Commons at Camp Creek in College Park—all reportedly “dangerous dwellings.”
Some Forest Cove tenants have told Atlanta Civic Circle they’re happy with their new apartments. But others say they’re having trouble adapting, because their new apartments are in poor shape and their new landlords were reluctant to accept them as tenants—and treat them poorly because of the stigma of living at Forest Cove.
Shirley Pounds, who moved with four of her six children into the Park at London complex, in Ellenwood—one of the places on the AJC’s list—said she harbors no ill will for the city of Atlanta and its relocation team.
“The city actually saved us,” she said in an interview. “I think they helped the best that they could.”
What frustrates Pounds is that it feels like Millennia and HUD “don’t care nothing about us [Forest Cove tenants],” she said, since the landlord and the federal housing authority failed to provide decent housing in the first place for herself, and for her friends and neighbors.
Tenants and housing activists say HUD has ignored their calls for help for years—both before the relocation effort and after.
The Park at London treats former Forest Cove renters like second-class citizens, Pounds said. When her upstairs neighbor’s botched washing machine installation sent water “raining” into her apartment for more than a month, the complex’s property manager halfheartedly addressed it, she said. They sent in a maintenance crew to cut out damp drywall, but not to check for mold. She bought a test kit herself.
When something similar happened at Forest Cove, where Pounds lived for over 16 years, she and her children got sick from the mold, she said. She’s worried the water that’s seeped into her bedroom carpet poses a similar threat at her new home.
The Park at London, which is owned by a Brooklyn-based LLC, did not respond to a request for comment.
HUD spokesperson Shannon Watkins told Atlanta Civic Circle in an emailed statement that the federal agency is “concerned with the safety of all the Forest Cove residents that are served.”
“During the relocation, Millennia, the city of Atlanta and the Community Foundation selected housing for each resident,” the statement said. “Each relocation unit was inspected to be clean, safe, and sanitary by the [property] owner and accepted by the tenant prior to moving in.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ senior housing advisor Joshua Humphries, who said in a statement to Atlanta Civic Circle that Forest Cove fell apart due to “decades of public and private neglect,” added that each unit underwent two inspections before move-ins—per HUD guidelines—one by a licensed inspector and another by the potential resident.
APD Urban, which commissioned the inspections before leaving the relocation team in February, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But Pounds said many residents from Forest Cove didn’t see the actual unit they’d be moving into in advance. “They just show you a dressed-up unit,” Pounds said. “What do they call it, the model?”
While the ex-Forest Cove renters toured the complexes before agreeing to move into them, they’re not professional apartment inspectors, so they often didn’t know whether the landlords properly managed the complexes and were willing to make repairs as needed.
And although Pounds was willing to speak on the record, other former Forest Cove renters are reluctant to publicly voice their concerns, fearing possible repercussions from their landlords.
“There’s already a risk that certain landlords are not going to renew residents’ leases because of the stigma against Forest Cove residents,” said Nunn, the community advocate. Some tenants’ leases will expire as soon as June.
What’s next for renters?
What happens when the former Forest Cove tenants’ leases expire, between early June and late October, remains unclear. The city and its relocation team “continue to work to ensure no former Forest Cove resident experiences substandard housing again,” Humphries said in the mayor’s office statement.
The relocation team is working with residents and property managers to get maintenance issues addressed promptly, he said, and the city recently launched a support hotline for former Forest Cove tenants.
When Mayor Dickens announced over a year ago that the city would relocate the Forest Cove residents, he said his administration aimed to facilitate their return to the Thomasville Heights neighborhood in a few years.
Humphries told Atlanta Civic Circle that the mayor’s office’s plan to redevelop publicly owned land in Thomasville Heights will soon come to fruition—and the relocated tenants will have the right of first refusal when rental units begin coming online.
“We are in the final stages of a community-led neighborhood planning effort in Thomasville Heights,” he said in the statement. “The plan is set to go before the Atlanta City Council in May and will lay the groundwork for the development of a healthy, thriving Thomasville Heights.”
As for Forest Cove itself, Millennia’s plan to renovate the complex—and, in theory, invite former tenants back—is seeming more and more unrealistic. In order to revitalize the dilapidated buildings, which have weathered numerous mold outbreaks from sewage and water leaks, the company estimates it would cost upwards of $56 million—or more than $140,000 per unit for 396 units.
But the Georgia Department of Community Affairs has twice denied Millennia’s bid for tax breaks, citing the condemnation. Millennia has appealed the condemnation order, but a court date has not yet been set to address the case.
At the federal level, Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock has urged HUD to properly oversee its Section 8 portfolio of apartment complexes to ensure they provide livable conditions, and to investigate landlords who don’t, his office told Atlanta Civic Circle. But Warnock’s team stopped short of calling out Millennia for its reported mismanagement in an email response to questions.
Warnock is working on legislation to require greater oversight that could improve living conditions at HUD-funded apartment complexes, the email said, but it provided no details.