By Sean Keenan, Atlanta Civic Circle
The sprawling new, community-crafted blueprint for the revitalization of southside Atlanta’s Thomasville Heights neighborhood reveals that the now-vacant and derelict Forest Cove apartment complex stands in the way of the development of hundreds of new, crucially needed housing units.
A municipal judge condemned the 396-unit complex, owned by Ohio-based mega-landlord Millennia Housing Management, and ordered it razed in December 2021. The property has further deteriorated, accumulating litter and weeds, since a city-led initiative finished relocating nearly 200 Section 8 tenant families last October.
Meanwhile, local community groups and urban planners have been piecing together the ambitious Thomasville Heights Neighborhood Plan, a 175-page roadmap to revitalize the community that is slated to be presented to Neighborhood Planning Unit Z when it next meets in August.
The plan calls for new residential and commercial development on vacant land owned by the city—and it also recommends tearing down Forest Cove and replacing it with 786 apartments, 34 townhomes, and 30 accessory dwelling units.
One of the main goals for revitalizing the neighborhood “is to create housing options for former Forest Cove residents that want to return to Thomasville Heights,” Joshua Humphries, Mayor Andre Dickens’ top housing policy advisor, said in an interview.
Millennia has stalled that mission by appealing the court order to raze the 22-acre complex, as part of a bid to spend upwards of $56 million rehabilitating Forest Cove—at a cost of over $140,000 per unit.
But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revoked Millennia’s Housing Assistance Payments contract for Forest Cove on June 30, meaning it is barred from receiving federal subsidies at that property for tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers, agency spokesperson Shannon Watkins confirmed to Atlanta Civic Circle on Monday.
That cast a pall of uncertainty over the landlord’s plans for Forest Cove. Millennia would need low-income housing tax credits from the state to finance its $56 million renovation, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs only issues them for projects that provide affordable units at below-market rates.
But Millennia’s renovation plan might have finally fallen apart. Arthur Krauer, the company’s executive vice president of compliance and community affairs, said in an email that the Forest Cove site is currently being marketed for sale, “and we are optimistic that we will locate a buyer who will partner with the city of Atlanta on the city’s overall development plan for the Thomasville Heights area.”
The city of Atlanta, its public housing authority Atlanta Housing, and Atlanta Public Schools own roughly 76 acres of vacant land in Thomasville Heights, according to the neighborhood revitalization plan. But the plan cautions that “redevelopment plans for the Forest Cove multifamily apartments will directly impact the final development program for the Atlanta Housing and the city of Atlanta sites.”
Humphries, the mayor’s advisor, said that revitalizing Thomasville Heights could become a pilot project for the Atlanta Urban Development Corporation, an entity the city intends to create later this month to foster mixed-income housing development.
Although the city moved the remaining 188 households from Forest Cove to other apartments and homes that accept rent vouchers scattered across metro Atlanta, Humphries said the mayor’s office will invite them to return to the neighborhood once new housing is available—at the Forest Cove site or elsewhere.
But before ex-Forest Cove families can consider moving back to their old community, the Thomasville Heights Neighborhood Plan must be approved by the neighbors and the Atlanta City Council, and then actually produce the requisite housing. If the plan earns Neighborhood Planning Unit Z’s approval during its August 28 meeting, it will head to the city council for consideration.
The city last year committed $9.1 million from its federal pandemic relief funding to the Forest Cove resident relocation effort, on the understanding that Millennia will reimburse it. Part of that funding pays the tenants’ portion of rent not covered by their HUD vouchers for a year.
When the city relocated the Forest Cove tenants, HUD allowed them to transfer their Section 8 vouchers to their new apartments. The agency also will soon grant those renters Tenant Protection Vouchers, which means they’ll retain their rental assistance and have the flexibility to move anywhere in the country that accepts subsidized housing vouchers.
“HUD’s target date for initial voucher activity is the first week of August,” said Watkins, the agency spokesperson.