This story follows an investigation WABE began more than a year and a half ago. To catch up on our previous coverage, listen to our podcast, “The Last Year at Forest Cove,” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Amazon Music.
By the time Ms. Peaches is supposed to move, Forest Cove is a new kind of empty.
When the city began relocating residents from the rundown south Atlanta apartments months ago, they were already half empty. Only 200 families lived in the 400-unit complex.
Now the number of those awaiting new housing has dropped to around 40 households. They’re expected to leave in the coming weeks.
Abandoned units, some boarded with new plywood, line the walkway outside Ms. Peaches’ red and brown townhome building. Meanwhile, animals are more visible than people. A muscular cat cuts across the path. A dog roams, sniffing around the grass.
This morning, Ms. Peaches says she woke up to a possum sitting outside her bedroom window.
“I told that possum, ‘You can have it. I’m gone,’” she says.
As she gets ready to leave her place of 20 years, she isn’t taking much. She threw out her couch, dressers and a bed. Rats messed with the stuff. The items will eventually end up in a trailer of a truck, going around vacant apartments and carrying out leftover trash and furniture.
Ms. Peaches is not complaining. She’s ready to go.
“I’m glad to go,” she says. “I did enough. I played my role.”
For years, she fought for better conditions at Forest Cove like it was her job.
The complex is part of a Section 8 program where the federal government pays most of the rent, but a private owner is in charge. And a series of those owners let the apartments deteriorate.
The latest owner, a company called Millennia, long said it intended to renovate the property. The plans kept getting delayed. Then, late last year, a local judge condemned the property and appeared to take the whole renovation off the table.
All this time, Ms. Peaches went on the news asking for help. She advocated and protested. She picked up trash. She looked after her neighbors and helped fix issues in their units.
“I’m glad to go. I did enough. I played my role.”Ms. Peaches
WABE showed all of Ms. Peaches’ work, and the emotional toll it took, in a year-long investigation following her push for decent housing. The series, now available as a podcast, aired for an entire week in February.
The following weekend, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens visited the complex for the first time. He promised a resolution, kickstarting a $9 million months-long, sometimes bumpy collaboration to relocate residents from Forest Cove.
On this September afternoon at the complex, waiting for the moving truck to arrive, Ms. Peaches thinks about what’s next now that she’s leaving her longtime home.
Forest Cove may have another life. Millennia made an agreement with the city to help with the relocation and repay the costs. In return, the city is expected to drop the condemnation order.
Millennia still says it hopes to renovate the complex. And if that happens, residents like Ms. Peaches would be allowed to return. She says she’ll make sure tenants get the option.
“Now I got to fight that,” she says.
First, though, a vacation.
“That’s what I’m gonna do, take a little vacation,” she says. “Then I’m back at it again.”
After all the delays Ms. Peaches faced in getting help for Forest Cove, her moving truck at least arrives on time. Soon, she’s settling into her new home.
In a tight market, the nonprofits helping with the relocation have struggled to find quality housing. Residents from Forest Cove have ended up in homes throughout the metro area, from Stone Mountain to Union City. And some have faced issues in their new units.
That’s not how Ms. Peaches’ story has turned out, though. She picked a suburban-style complex around Ellenwood in Clayton County.
It’s clear from the outside these apartments are not like Forest Cove. The lawns are landscaped. And the light gray, two-story buildings appear maintained — no boarded-up units visible.
Inside her ground-floor one-bedroom one afternoon a couple of days into the move, Ms. Peaches has oldies R&B playing. Her son and another resident from Forest Cove are helping her unpack while the complex’s longtime community advocate Gino Turner is on the phone setting up her cable.
There’s excitement in the apartment, especially from Ms. Peaches. She shows off her new walk-in closet, her spacious bathroom with clean walls and her kitchen with white cabinets and light gray countertops.
“I got stainless steel. Everything’s nice,” she says.
After so many years fighting at Forest Cove, Ms. Peaches has a place that’s decent and comfortable, where she can relax and create her home.
“I’m happy,” Ms. Peaches says. “I sure am.”