National housing advocates call on HUD to investigate Forest Cove's owner

forest cove

Twenty-four local and national tenant advocacy groups signed a letter to HUD asking the department to hold the for-profit company Millennia accountable for housing conditions they describe as “hazardous” and “horrendous.” (Alphonso Whitfield/WABE)

Local and national housing advocates are calling for the federal government to investigate the owner of Atlanta’s deteriorating Forest Cove apartments.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, they claim the company operates several federally-funded properties in slum-like conditions.

The letter lists six properties across the country, including Atlanta’s Forest Cove. All have long histories with issues like mold, infestations and crime and all now belong to the Cleveland-based Millennia.

At all of the complexes, HUD also covers much of the rent, so that tenants only pay 30% of what they earn.

Despite the federal money flowing to these properties, National Housing Law Project attorney Bridgett Simmons said HUD’s oversight has been lax.

“And so, even though the subject of this letter is Millennia, it frankly is about HUD and their responsibility and their obligation to the tenants,” she said.

Simmons said the issue became urgent after the extreme conditions at Forest Cove led the city of Atlanta to condemn the property. The future of the complex’s affordable units is now certain.

In the letter, the National Housing Law Project requests that HUD develop a national-level team to ensure Millennia is providing decent, safe and sanitary housing, as federal policy requires.

Twenty-three other local and national tenant groups, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, signed onto the effort.

HUD acknowledged receipt of the 16-page letter but gave no further comment. Millennia, however, responded with a six-page statement of its own.

In the statement, the company said the six properties don’t capture the company’s work. Millennia is one of the largest providers of federally-subsidized housing. Its entire portfolio includes 275 complexes.

And at the six properties mentioned in the letter, the company said the advocates minimized or omitted renovations underway.

Four of those properties once belonged to Global Ministries Foundation. The religious nonprofit sold its share of subsidized housing to Millennia after repeated news reports showed it neglected repairs.

Included in that sale planned in late 2016 was Forest Cove, although Millennia didn’t acquire the complex until four years later in April 2021.

In its statement, Millennia said it was prepared at that point to follow through with renovations. Then, at the end of December, a city judge condemned the complex. That jeopardized its financing.

Millennia said it invested $13 million into fixing immediate safety concerns, staff and security at Forest Cove.

Foluke Nunn with Atlanta’s Housing Justice League, which also signed the letter to HUD, said tenants are still living among rats and worry about air quality in their units. One resident’s floor fell through recently.

Tenants have also complained that security at the complex is insufficient. Shootings remain a regular occurrence.

Nunn said people understand that the issues at Forest Cove developed before Millennia took ownership a year ago. But she said despite promises, the company hasn’t brought meaningful change in that time.

“It’s a very illustrative example of how Millennia has been essentially neglecting properties that have severe needs,” she said.

Last month, HUD notified Millennia that the conditions at Forest Cove amounted to a violation of its contract. The company now must submit a corrective plan to HUD, which it said it would do.

The company and the city are working to relocate residents off the property by mid-July. Last week, the two parties reached an agreement, where the city will cover initial costs. Millennia has to reimburse that money once it redevelops or sells the complex.

Read and listen to WABE’s year-long investigation into the conditions at Forest Cove here.