The city of Atlanta and Millennia Housing Management are taking their fight over the southside’s Forest Cove Apartments to federal court.
Millennia, the Ohio-based mega-landlord that owns Forest Cove and manages 280 low-income apartment complexes across 26 cities, sued the city in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Oct. 3, accusing it of unconstitutionally having Forest Cove condemned and ordered demolished and compromising Millennia’s plan to renovate it.
Millennia is seeking to reverse a December 2021 condemnation and demolition order from an Atlanta Municipal Court judge, plus at least $21 million in damages.
The city of Atlanta responded on Friday by threatening a federal class action lawsuit against Millennia, with Millennia renters nationally as plaintiffs.
“The folks who called Forest Cove home were living a nightmare and experiencing a humanitarian crisis,” Mayor Andre Dickens said at the Oct. 6 press conference, pointing to photographs of mold-ridden and pest-infested units. “If Millennia Housing Management had it their way, these families would still be living in those conditions today.”
Joining Dickens and former Forest Cove residents at the press conference, nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who will represent the city and the renters, asserted that “Millennia puts profits over safety.” He accused the company of continuing to collect Section 8 rental money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Forest Cove, even after the complex’s residents were rehoused.
Calling Millennia’s new lawsuit “frivolous,” Crump said, “When you have a big bully, you have to go punch that big bully to show them you’re not scared.”
MORE ON THE ONGOING FOREST COVE SAGA
Millennia Housing Management wants to save the condemned complex from a court-ordered wrecking ball.
Millennia: Protracted legal feud hurts Forest Cove’s “saleability,” hinders condemned complex’s cleanup
‘The owner of this property is underwater right now, because of the position it’s been placed in by the city’s lawsuits.’
Dickens said the city will seek at least $10 million from Millennia in its own federal lawsuit to cover the costs of relocating the residents and paying their rents. “That’s just the start of things,” the mayor added.
That escalates a dispute from Fulton County Superior Court over the final terms of a settlement agreement that the city and Millennia made in March 2022 over the future of the long-condemned and now vacant Section 8 apartment complex.
The city balked over the summer at rescinding the demolition order against Forest Cove, which was one of the conditions for settling Millennia’s appeal of the demolition. But late last month Millennia dropped its appeal, just days before it sued the city in federal court.
Millennia has been “unfairly painted as villains with respect to their involvement in Forest Cove,” the company said in its Oct. 3 complaint. “The city and various news outlets in Atlanta have cast Phoenix Ridge [the name under which Millennia owns Forest Cove] as a serial violator of various housing codes that sought to maintain the Forest Cove apartment homes as a nuisance in perpetuity. Nothing is further from the truth.”
Millennia blamed the prior owner, Global Ministries Foundation, for the complex’s dilapidated and dangerous conditions. Millennia bought Forest Cove from Global Ministries in spring 2021 after HUD ordered Global Ministries to sell off its entire Section 8 rental portfolio due to years of mismanagement.
“As a company, we have the utmost respect and concern for the residents of Forest Cove, which is why we acquired the already severely distressed property in 2021 with the sole purpose of relocating the residents offsite while the property would undergo a $58M rehabilitation,” Millennia spokesperson Maggie McDaniel said in a statement.
Millennia’s federal lawsuit claims the city’s late 2021 condemnation action against Forest Cove over dozens of housing code violations have cost Millennia at least $21 million in expenses and drastically devalued Forest Cove, which it purchased for $38.8 million.
The city last year spent around $10 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to relocate Forest Cove’s nearly 200 households to other Section 8 rental complexes across metro Atlanta. The March 2022 settlement deal dictated Millennia must pay that back once Forest Cove was renovated, rebuilt, or sold.
Just as the new legal dispute heated up last week, at least one building in the vacant and dilapidated complex caught on fire over the weekend. That followed a two-alarm fire at another Forest Cove building last November.