City of Atlanta still working to finalize relocation plan for Forest Cove
Atlanta’s housing and economic development agencies are all collaborating on a plan to relocate residents from the deteriorating Forest Cove apartments in southeast Atlanta.
The city has said it has identified at least 170 units at properties, all connected to the Atlanta Housing Authority, for the 211 families who remain at Forest Cove.
But tenants at the complex, which has some of the city’s worst conditions, still don’t know when that plan could begin.
According to city officials, the start of relocation depends on a decision from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes the residents’ rent.
City Council member Jason Winston, whose district includes Forest Cove, said the Atlanta government is waiting on a formal assurance from HUD that tenants can take their rental subsidy to a new complex.
“This is something that’s unprecedented,” he said. “But we have got a verbal commitment. And now we’re just waiting to work out the details of that.”
Forest Cove is part of a program known as Project-Based Section 8. Tenants receive a subsidy, limiting their rent to 30% of their income, but it only applies while residents live at the property.
If tenants ever move from Forest Cove, they lose that rental assistance and may have to pay market rent. For years, many families have felt stuck at Forest Cove even as units fall apart around them.
But after discussing the situation at Forest Cove with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge last Tuesday, Mayor Andre Dickens said she finally agreed to issue rental subsidies that would work at other properties.
“She and I came to an agreement that it’s time and what she’s going to do is provide temporary vouchers for all of those residents to be relocated,” Dickens said at a press conference Wednesday.
So far, HUD has not confirmed this publicly. In a statement, the agency only said Fudge enjoyed speaking with Dickens and looked forward to continuing the conversation.
“She reiterated the importance of finding a long-term solution to keep affordable housing units in the City of Atlanta and she stressed the importance of moving residents as soon as possible while the redevelopment efforts are in motion,” the statement said.
For years, those redevelopment efforts have been tenants’ only hope for relief at Forest Cove. A private, for-profit company called Millennia has promised to renovate the complex since late 2016.
A year-long investigation by WABE, though, documented how the company delayed its plans while the complex received more than 500 code violations and at least one failed federal inspection.
When the company finally purchased Forest Cove last April, residents still waited months for the company to relocate them and begin construction. Then, at the end of the year, a city judge moved to condemn the complex, stalling the effort entirely.
Millennia has said it has worked with urgency at the complex despite challenges related to the pandemic and its effect on the economy. In a statement after the judge’s ruling, the company said it remains committed to the redevelopment of Forest Cove.
Millennia is appealing the court order, which calls for Forest Cove’s demolition by late September.
Atlanta Public Schools announced on Friday it would close the nearby school, Thomasville Heights Elementary, in response to the condemnation order. If the complex is empty this fall, APS said the school will have too few students.
That decision must be approved by the Atlanta Board of Education in April.
Dickens, meanwhile, has initiated an alternate plan. In an administrative order, he directed city agencies to fast-track the redevelopment of an adjacent site, the former Thomasville Heights public housing project.
Once complete, the mayor’s office said Forest Cove residents would have first right to the new units.
But first, tenants still must move out of the complex, where they deal daily with rats, holes in their floors and burned-out units. When pressed for a date when residents could leave the property, Dickens said he understands why residents are anxious for an immediate resolution.
“I know if I was in this emergency situation, I want the mayor to snap his or her fingers,” Dickens said Wednesday, “but this is a good amount of snapping that I’m doing.”