A Fulton County judge said Thursday that he’ll need a week to decide how to rule on Forest Cove owner Millennia Housing Management’s bid to save the long-condemned Section 8 apartment complex from a court-ordered wrecking ball.

An Atlanta judge in December 2021 deemed the notoriously dilapidated and dangerous southside Atlanta property a public nuisance. He condemned it and ordered it razed by fall 2022, and the Ohio-based mega-landlord has been fighting to overturn that ruling in Fulton County Superior Court ever since.

At issue at the Aug. 10 hearing was Millennia’s motion to enforce a settlement agreement that it made with the city of Atlanta in March 2022, almost three months after Forest Cove was condemned. The deal said that the demolition order would be waived if the remaining residents were rehoused—but the city says it included other stipulations. 

The landlord said Forest Cove should not be razed, because it has upheld the agreement’s terms: Since Forest Cove’s residents have been relocated, the company’s lawyers said, Fulton Judge Eric Dunaway should enforce the deal, effectively voiding the demolition order.

The city’s legal team, however, contended that the settlement hinges on more than relocating the almost 200 households who’d for years been living amid pests, mold, and crime at Forest Cove; it also required Millennia to clean up the refuse and sewage leaks on the now-vacant property and make it safe—which the landlord failed to do.

What’s more, the city would violate its own housing laws by allowing Millennia to skirt the condemnation order, which was issued after Forest Cove racked up 231 code violations for its uninhabitable state, said the city’s lawyer, James Dearing Jr.

“Eighteen months later, it is still the same,” Dearing said of Forest Cove’s condition. At the hearing, he pointed to photographs submitted as evidence that show broken security fencing, mounds of garbage, and overgrown weeds. “It is still a danger to the community,” he said.

Worth noting, Dearing added, is that the city—not Millennia—relocated the property’s remaining residents. Mayor Andre Dickens’ office announced on Oct. 3, 2022 that its staff and a team of nonprofits had rehoused 188 tenants and their families to metro area apartments and houses accepting government-backed rent vouchers. Millennia agreed to reimburse the city for the $9.1 million it spent on the relocation effort.

Millennia’s lawyer, Kurt Lentz of Baker Hostetler, countered that the landlord was well on its way to rehabilitating the decrepit property, with city-issued building permits in hand and an application pending for state tax credits needed to finance the renovation. But the city “defeated” those ambitions by having Forest Cove condemned, he said.

The demolition order disqualified Millennia from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) low-income housing tax credit program for Forest Cove, Lentz said. He added that when Millennia bought the neglected property from Global Ministries Foundation in April 2021, it “never intended to operate this property in the way it had been operated for decades beforehand.” 

Lentz also submitted a letter dated Oct. 14, 2022 from Mayor Andre Dickens to the DCA urging the state agency to approve Millennia’s tax credit application for Forest Cove’s renovation, despite the condemnation. The city’s refusal to execute the March 2022 settlement agreement, the lawyer said, contradicts its stated intention to see Forest Cove redeveloped.

Millennia still owes the city the $9.1 million for relocating the residents—but only if Forest Cove is sold, renovated, or rebuilt, according to the relocation plan agreement. 

The city maintains that the landlord is simply stalling to avoid paying its debt. “This case is about Millennia wanting to salvage whatever finances it can salvage,” Dearing said. “They want to just delay, delay, delay.”

“This is not a situation where the property was a nuisance back in 2021, and at the end of 2021, Millennia miraculously made a turnaround and the property is now Shangri-La,” he added. “This place is really a danger to the community.”

If Dunaway rules in favor of Millennia’s motion to execute the settlement agreement, Forest Cove won’t get bulldozed. Instead, the developer could hypothetically renovate the property, a theoretically cheaper alternative to rebuilding from scratch. If the judge rejects the motion, the case could go to trial.

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