Updated: Forest Cove residents free from rent as Atlanta mayor directs funds for their relocation

forest cove apartments
A recent WABE investigation documented how government officials stood by as Forest Cove received hundreds of code violations and failed federal inspections. One resident, a woman named Ms. Peaches, still pushed for change. (Alphonso Whitfield/WABE)

Updated Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 9:30 a.m.

On Tuesday, the office of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced it would use city funding to relocate residents of Forest Cove.

It also said the mayor would direct city agencies to immediately plan the redevelopment of a former public housing site, once known as Thomasville Heights, across from Forest Cove.

Once complete, Forest Cove residents would have first right to new units.

After a small protest from tenants, the owner of Forest Cove, Millennia, also said it would no longer charge rent. Tenants only pay 30% of their income, with the federal government covering the rest.

Story originally published Monday, Feb. 21

Residents at the deteriorating Forest Cove apartments in southeast Atlanta are still waiting on a plan for them to move.

The tenant advocacy group Housing Justice League is now expected to call for a rent strike at the federally-subsidized complex after years of promises have yet to translate into action.

The most recent promise was a little over a week ago.

WABE published a year-long investigation documenting how government officials stood by for years, despite hundreds of code violations and failed federal inspections, and following one resident, a woman named Ms. Peaches, in her push for change.

The weekend after the investigation, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens visited Forest Cove. As he got out of his car, the residents celebrated. Ms. Peaches cheered and shouted “we need you!”

Tenants like her said he was the first mayor to witness the complex’s horrible conditions. As he walked the complex with the district’s Council Member Jason Winston, residents talked of units overrun with rats and showed Dickens a child looking out from a near-collapsing window.

 “I bet you by the end of the week,” Dickens told residents that day, Feb. 12, “we’ll have something that we can share to say how are we going to move everybody.”

forest cove apartments
Outside Ms. Peaches’ apartment at Forest Cove, a bullet recently punctured a sign she placed in the garden. (Stephannie Stokes/WABE)

But then the following week passed without any news. On Friday, the administration only said updates were forthcoming.

The residents have been stuck in a familiar search for information as their buildings continue to fall apart. Bullets recently pierced a sign in Ms. Peaches’ yard that reads “Don’t Give Up.”

Before Dickens’ visit, tenants like her waited years for a promised renovation. Since late 2016, a new company called Millennia was supposed to buy the complex and do a full rehabilitation.

But when the sale finally happened, the company delayed relocating tenants — which would allow for construction to start — for months. And at the end of December, a city judge ruled the apartments were “uninhabitable.”  

With the judge’s ruling, the renovation plan has been in doubt. The state Department of Community Affairs has said it will not give the project low-income housing tax credits, a subsidy Millennia needs to afford Forest Cove’s $57 million renovation.

Even so, the company has said it remains committed to the redevelopment of Forest Cove.

In the weeks since WABE’s investigation, the complex has had other visitors. Officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which covers much of tenants’ rent costs, reviewed the issues at Forest Cove in person on Thursday.

In a statement, the agency said “HUD acknowledges the present conditions at Forest Cove Apartments are not acceptable.”

HUD appeared to support Millennia’s plan for the complex, adding that renovating the property would address the city’s concerns about the conditions and protect residents from displacement.

After inquiries from WABE, U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia also said they were looking into the problems at Forest Cove.

“My office is working with City of Atlanta officials as well as HUD to encourage a speedy resolution for Forest Cove residents that will help result in families transitioning to safe and stable living accommodations,” Warnock said in a statement.

The residents will keep waiting to see what that resolution will be. Housing Justice League plans to announce the rent strike at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday outside the complex.