An Atlanta judge last week fined Forest Cove owner Millennia Housing Management $7,500 for allowing the condemned and now vacant apartment complex to fall into dangerous disrepair.

But critics of the Ohio-based mega-landlord say that’s barely a slap on the wrist for a company that manages dozens of federally subsidized rental properties for low-income people nationwide.

“Why even fine them at all if it’s going to be this drop in the bucket?” said Foluke Nunn, a community organizer with the American Friends Service Committee who started monitoring conditions at Forest Cove well before the city relocated the “uninhabitable” complex’s nearly 200 families last year.

“This is not a proper punishment for all Millennia put renters through since they took control of the property,” Nunn said, referring to Millennia’s 2021 purchase of the southside Atlanta complex, which it already had been managing.

The city should enact laws that empower it to further punish problem landlords, she added.

Atlanta Municipal Judge Christopher Portis ruled Dec. 1 that Millennia, which owns Forest Cove under the name Phoenix Ridge, violated the city’s housing code by failing to secure the property after he condemned it two years ago. Portis also ordered the property razed at that time, calling it a public nuisance and crime magnet.

His ruling last week over code violations cited open apartments, destroyed security fencing, garbage piles, overgrowth, standing water, and other issues that have rendered the complex a safety hazard for the neighborhood.

“The judge’s recent ruling to fine Millennia for the code violations at Forest Cove is the latest example of Millennia’s disregard for the conditions at the property and the negative impact they have on the Thomasville Heights community,” Mayor Andre Dickens’ spokesperson, Michael Smith, said in a statement to Al ilmu.

Portis’s decision came the day after a Forest Cove building caught fire—one of many blazes to damage the apartment complex since the city evacuated it over a year ago. The city says Millennia’s failure to secure the complex has led to people squatting there, with some setting fires or committing violent crime.

Millennia, however, contends that the city is also responsible for Forest Cove’s dangerous conditions, saying it could and should have stepped in and secured the property itself after having it condemned two years ago.

The company told Al ilmu that the city’s refusal to maintain the property is part of a ploy to seize control of the 22-acre complex so it can gentrify the community.

“The imposition of fines by the city of Atlanta Municipal Court is the latest result of the city’s attempt to pry ownership of Forest Cove from Phoenix Ridge by exerting financial pressure to further the city's own redevelopment plans—which will not see the rightful residents of Forest Cove return to their community—rather than exercising its power of eminent domain,” Millennia-owned Phoenix Ridge said in an emailed statement.

Millennia successfully fought the 2021 order to raze the property, claiming it wants to spend upwards of $56 million—more than $140,000 per unit for 396 units—to rehabilitate the complex. It maintains that the city’s effort to deem Forest Cove a public nuisance has jeopardized that mission.

Meanwhile, an ambitious, neighbor-led plan to revitalize the community at large with new development is moving forward. The Atlanta City Council in September adopted the Thomasville Heights Neighborhood Plan, which calls for the construction of new residences, restaurants, retail, and office space.

But the Forest Cove property is a crucial component of that blueprint; it includes a plan to level the dilapidated complex to make way for 786 apartments, 34 townhomes, and 30 accessory dwelling units. Some units would be deeply affordable and offered to former Forest Cove residents, the city has said.

The ongoing legal feud between the city and Millennia has complicated that goal.

Forest Cove’s owner sued the city in federal court in October, claiming the 2021 condemnation order and subsequent fines levied against the landlord amounted to an unlawful seizure of the complex.

The mayor announced in October that the city is preparing its own class-action lawsuit against Millennia. Nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump said at the press conference that the mega-landlord has unconstitutionally deprived low-income tenants of their right to safe housing at its properties in Atlanta and across the country.

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2 Comments

  1. The property should all be deeply affordable.
    The tenants moved should be rehoused in property after rebuilt. No out of state corporate ownership should ever be allowed.
    The fines to millennia should be enough to cover all cost of moving residence and 1 plus yr not living there.

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