Renovation of Atlanta's long-neglected Forest Cove Apartments in doubt

Residents of Forest Cove Apartments have spent years living among issues, like rats and collapsing floors, as they wait for a long-promised renovation. Now the complex’s future is uncertain. (Alphonso Whitfield/WABE)

Residents at the Forest Cove Apartments in Southeast Atlanta have spent years living among some of the worst conditions in the city. They have waited through infestations, mold and broken appliances, all with the promise of a long-expected renovation.

Now, just as that renovation appeared about to take place, the plan is in question. 

According to records obtained by WABE, the state has rejected a funding deal with the owner that would have made the renovation possible. The decision was the latest setback in a long, messy rehabilitation effort that included a lawsuit from the city of Atlanta. 

It comes as residents are already previewing units at other complexes, where they would stay temporarily during the renovation. Foluke Nunn of Housing Justice League, which has helped tenants prepare, said many have counted on a return to a nicer, improved complex. 

“‘I just want to know that we’re definitely going to be coming back to Forest Cove,” Nunn said one resident recently told her. 

The result now is uncertainty for roughly 200 families living in Atlanta’s lowest-cost units.

Rats, holes in floors and ceilings, and trash piling up

Forest Cove is income-based, where tenants pay 30% of what they earn. The federal government provides money to cover the rest. But the complex is not public housing. Private companies, who own and manage the complex, are responsible for taking care of it.

And in the past, the companies in charge of Forest Cove have not done that.

In recent years, tenants have reported units with holes in the floors and ceilings. They hear rats crawl through the gaps or scratch at their doors. And when the tenants step outside, they see trash covering the ground, floating up in pools of water and piling up in dumpsters.

Many of the units sit empty, boarded up and occasionally charred from previous fires. The nearly 400-unit complex, one of the largest federally-subsidized properties in the city, is now half-vacant. 

Despite all this, for the tenants who are left, there was always a light — even if faint — at the end of the tunnel. Since late 2016, a Cleveland-based for-profit company called Millennia has announced its intention to buy the apartments and provide a full rehabilitation. 

In April of last year, the company bought the complex. It started meeting with residents about relocating them from the property so construction could begin. At first, the company told tenants some could begin moving as early as July.

Then, the timeline kept getting pushed back. 

WABE was on the ground during these delays. It began following tenants at the complex last spring. As the months dragged on and tenants still complained of unsafe conditions and violent crime, WABE continued to visit the complex.

As recently as last week, Millennia assured tenants and WABE that the company could start construction as soon as it secured approval from the state.

The $57 million rehabilitation plan, as Millennia describes it, relies on low-income housing tax credits — a federal subsidy for affordable developments that is controlled by the state. The company first began its application with Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in 2018. 

“We are at this point just waiting for final approval from DCA,” said Arthur Krauer, Millennia’s public policy director to WABE on Jan. 18.

However, based on emails WABE recently received, DCA told Millennia it would not give the company financial resources for the redevelopment of Forest Cove. The statement from DCA division director Jill Cromartie was clear: it was denying Millennia’s application. 

“No further requests in this matter should be considered,” Cromartie wrote in the Jan. 11 letter.

DCA, Atlanta solicitor and code enforcement office silent

The reason driving the state’s response was a local court ruling from late last year. 

As Millennia delayed work at Forest Cove, the city filed a lawsuit to demolish the complex because of its hundreds of ongoing code violations. In a little-noticed order at the end of December, a municipal judge agreed. 

He ruled Millennia must relocate all tenants by the beginning of this coming March. Then by  September, Millenia must tear down Forest Cove entirely. With the order in place, DCA said it could not approve an application to renovate the buildings at Forest Cove. 

Millennia appealed the municipal court ruling on Jan. 26. 

DCA did not respond to three requests for comment about its denial of the project. The city solicitor, which initiated the lawsuit, and code enforcement have declined, or not responded to, multiple requests to speak with WABE over the last year. 

Meanwhile, residents at Forest Cove are left with confusion about whether the promised renovation will ever happen.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which holds the rental assistance contract with the owner of Forest Cove, did not provide a comment by WABE’s deadline. 

In a statement, the office of Mayor Andre Dickens said it was monitoring the situation at Forest Cove and determining how it could help the residents in the complex. 

“Mayor Dickens remains committed to ensuring the dignity and housing security of all Atlanta residents,” the statement said. 

‘That situation is deteriorating by the day’

According to newly-elected Atlanta City Council Member Jason Winston, whose district includes Forest Cove, the city is preparing to step in and help with the relocation of Forest Cove’s residents if Millennia is unable to follow through with its plan.

“They deserve adequate, proper housing,” Winston said. “They don’t have it right now and that situation is deteriorating by the day.”

But a relocation plan alone may not be encouraging for residents. 

Many of the low-income apartments that tenants have viewed as part of the relocation effort have shown similar issues as Forest Cove, according to  Nunn of the Housing Justice League. 

“I think, worst-case scenario, they find a tenant someplace else that’s not that much better than Forest Cove,” Nunn said.

WABE is planning to release a series and documentary about tenants’ experiences waiting for Forest Cove’s renovation the week of Feb. 7. When WABE informed one resident that the improvements are in doubt, she was too distraught to share a comment. 

Millennia’s full statement is below:

Millennia remains committed to the rehabilitation of Forest Cove, and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal housing and finance partners to achieve that goal. After decades of decline, Millennia acquired the community in April of 2021 and has invested more than $13.7 million toward its revitalization. Currently, our focus is on the relocation of residents and executing a development plan that will bring residents back to a newly transformed community that will serve as a beacon of hope for the community at large.