Warning from Mayor Kasim Reed to speculators: “You’ll see many more Rick Warrens”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed used the recent opening of the first park for the impoverished English Avenue neighborhood to give a warning to real estate speculators:

"You'll see many more Rick Warrens," Reed told a crowd of reporters, one day after the Buckhead investor was sentenced to 30 days in jail for housing code violations.

"I thought it was important that he be held accountable, and that others know that we're going to apply that same kind of accountability to others," Reed said during the Lindsay Street Park opening.

Jail sentences are rare in housing court, but Warren's status was one of the neighborhood's biggest property owners —and one of its worst—made him a target. At least 30 times, he told authorities he was responsible for violations on houses deemed so run-down they posed a danger to the neighborhood, according to evidence presented at his Tuesday sentencing hearing. He had also racked up at least 20 guilty verdicts.

The city cracked down on Warren last year after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation. Reed paid special attention to Warren's case, municipal court proceedings and halting the speculator's $667,000 deal to sell two dozen properties to the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority as part of an anti-blight effort. A spokeswoman for the mayor told the AJC that allowing investors like Warren to profit would be a "slap in the face" to neighborhood residents.

Speculators have been snapping up properties in and around English Avenue and neighboring Vine City with the construction of a new $1 billion Falcons stadium next door, and plans for a link to the popular Beltline trail to the west. Warren came to represent fears in the historically black neighborhood that white, wealthier outsiders would cash in on redevelopment at the expense of locals who spent decades trying to revive it.

Reed described his focus on Warren as a smart strategic decision.

“When you try to change a situation, you start with the biggest opportunity to change it," Reed said during the park opening. "He [Warren] also was one of the biggest violators. So what you saw was someone who held up his hand, talked about all these relationships he had, and how he could get away with treating people the way he did, and managing the properties the way he did. So what you’re going to see is focus on the folks who have the largest amount of real estate and they’re going to be forced to maintain them and clean them.”

Warren will be back in court for his fifth trial on housing code violations January 26. A half-dozen citations are pending, and Reed once remarked earlier this year that the city had 80 or so they could add on.

(Hat tip to City Hall reporter Katie Leslie, who attended the press conference and recorded the mayor’s comments.)