One year after the city of Atlanta extricated nearly 200 families from the southside’s dilapidated and dangerous Forest Cove Apartments, many of the condemned complex’s former residents are still stuck in precarious living situations.
They’re waiting for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make good on its promise to provide portable Section 8 rent vouchers that they can use at their current homes, elsewhere in Atlanta, or nationally.
Audriana Seals, who moved from Forest Cove to the Summit apartment complex in Union City, said her new home is nearly as bad as her old one, plagued with pests, mold, and leaky pipes. She’s desperate for a new rent voucher, but now she’s not even sure HUD will approve her application.
“I’m so ready to go, because they keep saying they’re coming to work on these [problems],” Seals told Atlanta Civic Circle of her landlord. “Meanwhile, we’ve constantly been getting sick being in this mildew, and there’s holes everywhere leaking. The tub keeps filling up.”
HUD in May announced it would revoke its Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract to subsidize tenants’ rent at Forest Cove, which is owned by Ohio-based mega-landlord Millennia Housing Management. At the time, the federal agency said it would provide the complex’s relocated residents with “tenant protection vouchers,” which are transferable to any apartment complex accepting Section 8 vouchers.
But nearly four months after HUD canceled the HAP contract on June 30, most of the uprooted and rehoused tenants still haven’t received the new Section 8 vouchers, according to Foluke Nunn, who works with the nonprofit American Friends Service Committee, an organization that’s been serving as a watchdog over the relocation effort and its aftermath.
The city finished relocating the Forest Cove families to other apartments and houses in metro Atlanta last October. It will continue paying rent for the tenants, who rely on government subsidies to remain housed, until they receive their new HUD vouchers. To do that, the city has spent about $10 million in federal pandemic-relief funds.
Like many former Forest Cove residents, Seals said she thought receiving the tenant protection vouchers from HUD would be an automatic process and she wouldn’t have to prove her financial hardship to the government.
But HUD must navigate red tape before providing the rent vouchers. Having the tenants reapply is “a necessary and customary part of the process,” HUD spokesperson Shannon Watkins said, to assist the voucher program’s administrator, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
“A resident’s application will be screened for continued eligibility by the administrator, and once approved, each household will receive a voucher,” Watkins said in a email statement to Atlanta Civic Circle. “The timing of voucher receipt is variable for each household and is based on the status of their application.”
Another longtime Forest Cove resident, Madrika Gray, said she’s appalled that HUD would make everyone reapply for rent assistance after the hardships they experienced at the deteriorated complex.
“It should be a crime and a shame how we’re being made to apply and worry if we’ll be approved or not,” she said. “So many families are once again being taunted by HUD to get what’s rightfully owed.”
But, Watkins noted, HUD has enlisted the help of government contractor Leumas to assist residents with “relocation-related activities,” and “a vast majority of the residents have been assisted with completing and submitting their TPV application.”
Vouchers don’t guarantee housing
Another problem for the relocated Forest Cove tenants is that simply securing a new rent voucher doesn’t guarantee stable housing.
Felicia Morris, a longtime Forest Cove resident and community leader known as “Ms. Peaches,” moved to the Park at London apartment complex in Ellenwood, Georgia, during the city-led resident relocation process.
Morris told Atlanta Civic Circle that she’d like to move back into Atlanta to be closer to her doctor, who’s helping her recover from lung cancer. But she’s discovered that landlords willing to accept Section 8 rent vouchers are scarce.
“I’ve been looking for places,” she said. “I’ve been trying to look for some apartments close [to her doctor’s office in Atlanta], but they don’t accept vouchers.”
Hunting for the elusive affordable apartment that takes Section 8 vouchers can wear on a person. Particularly if they’re just emerging from a long battle with cancer.
Morris said she’ll likely stay put until the city builds new affordable housing on vacant land it owns in Thomasville Heights, the neighborhood where Forest Cove is located.
The city has been working with Thomasville Heights residents on an ambitious plan to bring hundreds of new affordable housing units to the community. The plan is still in preliminary phases, though, and the city could be a long way off from finding a developer to partner with and starting construction.
Meanwhile, the fate of the 22-acre Forest Cove property is up in the air, as the city and Millennia tangle in court over tearing down or renovating the deteriorating complex.
Courtney English, a senior advisor to Mayor Andre Dickens, said the housing development plan is progressing.
“One thing is certain,” English said. “We are going to turn dirt in Thomasville Heights to allow residents who want to return the ability to return, and build a whole healthy community in the area.”